- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2002

Three Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer have evinced a desire to chip away at capital punishment by playing what might be called the youth card. They're concerned that teen-age murderers may not be fully capable of understanding their situation or the severity of their crimes and, thus, it is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual to put them to death. The recent case of 17-year-old Toronto Patterson provided the pretext. Executed by the state of Texas last Wednesday for a murder he committed while a juvenile, he appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay of execution on just such grounds.
While the majority rejected Patterson's last-minute plea for a stay, the three left-leaning justices took the opportunity to challenge the very idea of executing a person for a crime committed before his or her 18th birthday irrespective of such factors as intent or the gratuitous nature of the crime itself. "Given the apparent consensus that exists among the states and in the international community against the execution of a capital sentence imposed on a juvenile offender," Justice Stevens wrote, "I think it would be appropriate for the court to revisit the issue at the earliest opportunity."
Sometimes, it takes a great deal of learning to let slip all common sense. The idea that a teen-age thug or killer has no awareness of willfully assaulting another human being and no moral comprehension that the act of taking a life is grievously wrong is the sort of arrant nonsense that only the over-educated can purvey or believe. Teen-agers may be immature, but that doesn't mean they don't know right from wrong, and shouldn't be held to account for their deeds. The alternative is to accept the idea that moral sensibilities sprout like April tulips at the age of 18 and that, prior to this sudden moral awakening, the state extends what amounts to a carte blanche for brutal assaults, regardless how unprovoked and unnecessary.
Justice Stevens and those sympathetic to his view need to ask themselves how it is that an 18-year-old can be considered legally responsible for murder and subject to adult punishment, but the same crime committed by a 17-year-old is subject to a different standard. Unless, of course, the true object is to undermine the idea of capital punishment itself in which case playing the youth card is merely the leading edge of the proverbial camel's nose under the tent.

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