"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Biggest Questions Awaiting the Supreme Court

The court’s new term, which starts Monday, will jump right back into high-profile constitutional battles like voting rights, affirmative action and the death penalty, as well as a new attack on public-sector labor unions. 

And the justices may well agree to take up issues of abortion and contraception again, in cases that could further strip away reproductive rights.

The decisions last term showed a court willing to take into account the effects of the law on individual lives. This term, the justices have many opportunities to show that same type of awareness.

Crime and punishment

Last term, in the case of Glossip v. Gross, which upheld Oklahoma’s lethal-injection drug protocol, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in dissent that the death penalty, as it is applied today, “likely” violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Until a majority of justices come around to Justice Breyer’s view, however, the court continues to tinker with state-sponsored killing. In a handful of cases this month, the justices will consider whether death sentences in several states violate the Constitution.

In one, a prosecutor is accused of having intentionally removed all potential black jurors from the capital murder trial of a black defendant, in violation of the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a fair jury trial. Another challenges a Florida rule that requires judges, not juries, to find facts that would subject a defendant to a death sentence — a practice the Supreme Court has already banned.

The justices will also decide whether their 2012 decision that banned mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles should apply to the more than 2,000 inmates who were sentenced before that case. Clearly, as a matter of basic fairness and legal coherence, it should.

Source: The New York Times, Editorial, October 5, 2015

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