In the last decade, I have become a convert to the Church and I have also gone through a political conversion of sorts. I have gone from the moderate left to the moderate to conservative right. Now, I would argue that leftists have left me more than I have left the left, but nevertheless I have very little in common with today’s liberal wing. But on one issue, I have not changed, and that is in my opposition to the death penalty.
Still, there are many problems with today’s death penalty decision.
I oppose the death penalty primarily for the same reason that I oppose abortion and creating embryos to extract stem cells: with the exception of cases of personal self-defense and the necessity of national defense, government-sanctioned destruction of human life is wrong and is something that should be left to God. I oppose the death penalty because it is more costly in the end (because of a necessarily massive appeals process) than just letting killers rot in jail the rest of their lives. I oppose the death penalty because it’s mostly about revenge and settling scores. I oppose the death penalty because very occasionally an innocent person receives capital punishment.
From an eternal perspective, we are sent here to learn. If somebody commits first degree murder, he can certainly learn how wrong that is in the spirit world, but couldn’t he also learn a tremendous amount while he spends the rest of his life in prison here on Earth? It makes me feel cheapened and dirty to have a government that promotes killing this person rather than allowing him to go through his own process of learning (while he is safely sequestered from society in a jail cell).
So, I am cheering for the Supreme Court decision that ended the death penalty for 18-year-olds, right? Well, not really. It’s certainly good to see that fewer people will be killed. But the Supreme Court’s reasoning shows some strange logic.
The court said that minors are not mature enough to be judged culpable for their acts. But this raises a huge inconsistency in past Supreme Court decisions, which have allowed, for example, a minor to kill an unborn child without consulting parents.
Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out in his dissent:
“In other contexts where individualized consideration is provided, we have recognized that at least some minors will be mature enough to make difficult decisions that involve moral considerations. For instance, we have struck down abortion statutes that do not allow minors deemed mature by courts to bypass parental notification provisions. See, e.g., Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U. S. 622, 643.644 (1979) (opinion of Powell, J.); Planned Parenthood of Central Mo. v. Danforth, 428 U. S. 52, 74.75 (1976). It is hard to see why this context should be any different. Whether to obtain an abortion is surely a much more complex decision for a young person than whether to kill an innocent person in cold blood.”
In an extremely alarming trend, Justice Kennedy once again relied on international law in this decision. Yes, the United States is one of the last countries to have a death penalties for minors, but in the end this is irrelevant. Count me among those who believe the Supreme Court should only consider the U.S. Constitution and not international law. As Latter-day Saints, it seems to me we should be concerned about defending the Constitution, which is increasingly under assault by a court that has apparently forgotten its mandate.
So, from a Latter-day Saint perspective, this decision is poorly reasoned and based on dangerous logic but is nevertheless a good cause.