Originally created 03/03/05

The Imperial Court



It shouldn't be called the U.S. Supreme Court. It should be called the U.S. Imperial Court.

In their 5-4 decision Tuesday banning the execution of 16- and 17-year-old killers, majority justices once again - as they all too often do - acted like they're sovereigns ruling over the other two branches of the federal government, as well as the states.

Based on the sound principle that adult crimes deserve adult punishment, including capital punishment, 19 states - including Georgia and South Carolina - allowed juries to sentence deadly teens to die. There's nothing in law or the U.S. Constitution that forbids that penalty, but our Imperial Court has long since gone way beyond its proper role of interpreting the law.

Now the supreme justices - appointed for life and seemingly accountable to no one - not only overturn jury verdicts on a whim, but they also abolish laws they don't like, and write new ones they do like. That arrogance rears its ugly head in the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and concurred with by justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and David Souter.

"The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood," Kennedy wrote. "It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest." That is legislative decision-making, pure and simple. And if the justices respected the Constitution, they would know they have no business going there.

The high court's imperial autocracy has seeped to the lower courts too. Why have the legislative branches when the courts are writing laws? Justice Kennedy also noted that the trend in most other countries as well as the United States was to do away with the death penalty for juvenile killers.

First, why should it matter what foreign countries do or what the "trends" are? The Supreme Court's only concern should be the U.S. Constitution; leave foreign laws to foreign countries.

Second, if justices are going to arbitrarily write laws according to the latest "trends," they ought to at least get it right. There are 19 states and 70 or so convicts on death row for committing murders while juveniles, so where's the trend? Antonin Scalia - one of the justices who understands the high court's proper role - rightly notes in his dissent that there is no clear trend to justify a growing consensus against the execution of killers younger than 18.

Then Scalia gets to the real heart of the matter: "The court says in so many words that what our people's laws say about the issue does not, in the analysis, matter: 'In the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of access to the death penalty.' The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards."

That raises the question: Who elected these guys bosses of the universe?