Some day constitutional scholars may look back at Roper vs. Simmons as a case that changed legal history. The court has exhibited an activist bent for years, but until now it always at least pretended that its decisions had some basis in constitutional law. With Roper vs. Simmons, the nation’s highest court has abandoned that pretense.
When the Supreme Court decides to hear a case, it does not agree to a general ideological debate — it agrees to hear a specific case. And the facts of this case make the court’s decision impossible to fathom.
In Roper, the court declared the execution of a minor unconstitutional, although 16 years ago the court ruled that such executions were not a violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Either the Constitution has changed in 16 years or the method of interpreting it has. And we know that the Constitution hasn’t changed by even one punctuation mark in that time.
The facts of the case are that 17-year-old Christopher Simmons planned and carried out a brutal murder. According to the written record, Simmons used “chilling, callous terms” as “he talked about his plan, discussing it for the most part with two friends.” What Simmons had in mind was to “commit burglary and murder by breaking and entering, tying up a victim, and throwing the victim off a bridge.”
He did so. The record relates that Simmons “[used] duct tape to cover [the victim’s] eyes and mouth and bind her hands.” Then “the … perpetrators put Mrs. Crook in her minivan and drove to a state park. They reinforced the bindings, covered her head with a towel, and walked her to a railroad trestle spanning the Meramec River. There they tied her hands and feet together with electrical wire, wrapped her whole face in duct tape and threw her from the bridge, drowning her in the waters below.”
None of these facts are disputed. Neither is testimony that Simmons assured his companions they would “‘get away with it’ because they were minors.”
Simmons was right. They got away with it. They got away with it because five renegade Supreme Court justices no longer consider the Constitution of the United States a relevant document. The court now bases its decisions on what Justice Anthony Kennedy called “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society”
If “evolving standards of decency” mean that a cruel, premeditated murder no longer warrants the death penalty, then I define decency differently than our learned judges. If the court’s decision is in keeping with “the progress of a maturing society,” then we also understand maturity differently.
Forget about arguments over the deterrent capacity of the death penalty. I never believed that the capital punishment debate hinged on deterrence. The death penalty serves one purpose — justice. People blinded by utopian ideas will never admit it, but the only way to balance the scales of justice is for a cruel killer to pay for a life with his life.
Perhaps the “Gang of Five” liberal justices on this court are afraid that President Bush will change the momentum of the past four decades by appointing more sensible justices in his second term. Maybe they feel that now is the time to abandon all restraint and try to enact as much “bench legislation” as they can. But regardless of what they may be thinking, they have destroyed jurisprudence in whatever sense the founders may have imagined it.
Thomas Jefferson saw this day coming. He wrote, “[T]he opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves, in their, own sphere of action, but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.”
The court has indeed become a “despotic branch,” ruling according to whim. “Evolving standards” are no standards. Worse still, when five oligarchs in black robes determine which standards evolve, any balance of powers we may enjoy is destroyed.
Never has it been more important to see conservative judges appointed at every level. Many Americans recognized this fact when they voted to give George W. Bush a second term. But their votes will accomplish nothing if Democrats continue their stated strategy of filibustering Bush’s judicial nominees.
It’s time to take back our justice system. Tell your senators to stamp out the obstructionism threatened by Reid, Byrd, and Co. Imagine that it was your mother, sister, daughter or wife who was wrapped in duct tape and electrical wire and thrown off a bridge.
Then tell me that Christopher Simmons does not deserve to die for that crime.Mike North is a professional land surveyor, amateur historian and former member of the Walker County school board. For past columns and contact information, visit In My Humble Opinion.