December 20, 2012
In 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Kennedy v. Louisiana. In that decision, the Court created a new categorical right to rape a child without receiving the death penalty.
Although the majority made mention of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment,” no one really believed that this new right had any basis in the Constitution. The Court majority claimed that its decision reflected a new societal consensus, despite the fact that six states and, as it turned out, Congress recently had adopted legislation providing capital punishment for certain child rapists. The dissenting justices said that the actual basis of the Kennedy decision was “the Court’s ‘own judgment’ regarding ‘the acceptability of the death penalty,’” but the majority opinion made clear that the Court simply differed with the people’s representatives on the question how significant rape of a child is.
In other words, the justices substituted their legislative will for that of elected legislators. Alas, there was nothing unusual about this. Kennedy v. Louisiana illustrates what has come of the Bill of Rights in our day.