Supreme Court Rules. Is It Just?

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Supreme Court PhotoThe Supreme Court ruled it is unjust to exact the death penalty for rape of a child where the child lives beyond the crime. Is this a just ruling? The answer depends upon whom you ask, what mode of brain operation they use to form an opinion, and whether they understand the word 'just' in the question?

Many who seek to answer this question through an empathy with the helpless child raped, will say this ruling is unjust. Trying to imagine being a child forcibly raped by an adult can bring up gruesome images of tearing flesh, blood, unimaginable fear and pain on the part of the child. Approaching the justice question from this vantage point would lend a person to the opinion that the harshest of punishments is warranted. If the question is approached by the parent of the child, who among us would not be prone to the opinion that there is no punishment harsh enough for the perpetrator? This approach to answering the question of justice is however, based on passion and the emotions attending the child's suffering.

Most who seek to answer this question of whether the Supreme Court's ruling is just or not from a more cerebral approach, will not be immune to the passions and empathetic approach above. But, they will take into consideration many more factors and consequences of the death penalty for such a crime. An eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth, is a model for assessing justice familiar to most persons in western cultures coming from the Old Testament the Holy Book upon which the religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are at least partially based.

In a strict observance of the literal meaning of such an approach, sexually brutalizing the perpetrator without killing or doing other harm to them, and then releasing them would meet the justice criteria of this Old Testament prescription. Many weighing this prescription however, would offer that acting as the perpetrator acted, does more harm to society at large, than the crime being punished. If society permits its own behavior to be defined by the criminals behavior, society will quickly lose whatever moral authority it has to ask and demand better behavior from its citizens.

Can a just society be long sustained if its members all seek retribution in kind for every wrong done them? What we have learned of the centuries old hostilities between the Shia and Sunnis, between the Hatfields and McCoys, between the Chicago police department and the Al Capone and Frank Nitty crime organizations, is that violence begets violence and civil disorder up to and including anarchy. For a society to stem such a cycle of growing violence, an intermediary between perpetrator and victims must intercede to halt the reiterating cycle of retribution becoming cause for more violence demanding yet more retribution.

Therefore, in modern western societies and most Eastern societies as well, it is a primary role of government to intercede as quickly as possible after a crime of violence has occurred, to offer the assurance to the victims that the perpetrator(s) will be apprehended and the state shall insure retribution is meted out in such a manner as to provide a sense of closure for the victims seeking retribution, while at the same time preserving the society's humane aspirations to rise above anarchy and self appointed roles of executioners of justice and retribution that lead to anarchy.

There is a deeply felt debate in this country over the death penalty use for capital murder crime that centers on this issue of whether the state should take life as the murderer's have taken life? One side argues it is not the same, the murderer's motives were unjust, the states execution of the murderer is just. The other side argues that is the eye for eye prescription that leads to justice being defined by the actions of the criminal, and to a dismantling of a society's aspirations toward a more peaceful and harmonious community of positive role modeling for posterity.

But, in a case of crime wherein the death of the victim did not occur nor was there evidence of any intent to take the victim's life, execution by the state even fails the eye for an eye test of justice. Following this line of reasoning, it is difficult if not impossible to characterize the Supreme Court's ruling as unjust, unless one seeks a definition of justice solely through the passions and emotions of the victim and the victims' sympathizers.

Therefore, it is and will be argued that a rational approach that seeks both justice and closure for the victims, and to foster the greatest humanity and aspirations for the society to live in peace with each other is just. And that this Supreme Court's ruling was in fact, just; as defined by America's preference for rule of law over the rule of individual passions. Our Constitutional sense of justice was defined as dispassionate by our founding fathers, who, despite their own passions, were wise enough to craft a system of justice which sought to avoid Gandhi's admonition against an eye for an eye resulting in the whole world becoming blind.

To some, Justice Anthony Kennedy's words for the majority court decision will not sound just to them. But, Kennedy's words, "The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child", do adhere to a founding principle in our Constitutional system, that justice shall be proportional and to the extent possible, contribute no greater harm to the society at large or its future.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on June 24, 2008 11:30 PM.

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