Justice Thomas on Death Penalty Appeal

I realize that the Supreme Court is generally considered about as staid a place as one could hope to visit. Nonetheless, I must applaud (if I may do so with reverential equanimity) Justice Thomas’ response to Justice Stevens on the latter’s belief that allowing people to stay on death row is in and of itself cruel and unusual punishment:

Stevens said he remained “steadfast” in his view that execution after such delay is unacceptably cruel because it subjects death row inmates to decades of severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement. Delaying an execution, he added, also does not further the public purposes of retribution and deterrence.

Justice Clarence ThomasJustice Clarence Thomas, in a spirited response, said Johnson spent 29 years challenging his conviction and sentence and “now contends that the very proceedings he used to contest his sentence should prohibit the state from carrying it out.”

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Noting Stevens’ dissent and his criticism last week of states executing inmates before their appeals process has concluded, Thomas added, “In Justice Stevens’ view, it seems the state can never get the timing just right.” The reason, he said, is that Stevens believes the death penalty is wrong.

“But that is where he deviates from the Constitution and where proponents of his view are forced to find their support in precedent from the `European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, the Supreme Court of India, or the Privy Council.’”

Thank you, Justice Thomas. One more reason, my friends, to be incredibly leery of any judge who looks to the precedents established in other countries rather than own own Constitution for the basis of his or her judgments from the bench. This is true for lower court and appeals courts, but is particularly of concern at the US Supreme Court level.

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