The Supreme Court’s recent ruling that struck down Chicago’s 28-year old gun ban received the lion’s share of the publicity that accompanied the flurry of decisions handed down by the High Court toward the end of its term. However, another opinion — this one dealing with life sentences for juvenile felons — raised extremely troubling questions about the basis on which the Court decides to apply constitutional principles. In particular, the Court’s ruling that a juvenile offender cannot be sentenced to life without parole for any offense short of murder, was based in large part on amorphous grounds that to hold otherwise would offend a “global” consensus on treatment of juvenile offenders, and would be inconsistent with “evolving standards of decency.”
Additionally, in ruling as it did in this case involving a juvenile repeat burglary and home-invasion offender sentenced to life in a Florida court, the five-member majority was clearly making a policy decision and supplanting its view of how juveniles should be sentenced, for that of the state legislature.
Reaching beyond our country’s borders to find justification for rendering a decision in a purely domestic case with no international ramifications or issues, was particularly galling to Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the dissenting opinion. He also took umbrage at the notion that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments” should rest on vague and shifting societal standards. In fact, he noted, the proper forum through which to render such judgments is the legislature and not the court.
In this dissent, Thomas again shows why he is the truest and most consistent constitutionalist serving on the Supreme Court bench.