The Supreme Court ruled today that the Constitution’s bar on cruel and unusual punishment forbids the execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes, the Associated Press reports. The 5-4 ruling ending a practice used in 19 states, overturns death sentences of about 70 juvenile murderers, and bars states from seeking to execute minors for future crimes.
Justices in 2002 banned the execution of the mentally retarded; the court had already outlawed executions for those who were 15 and younger when they committed their crimes. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, noted that most states don’t allow the execution of juvenile killers and those that do use the penalty infrequently. The trend, he said, was to abolish the practice. In a dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that there has been no clear trend of declining juvenile executions to justify a growing consensus against the practice. “The court says in so many words that what our people’s laws say about the issue does not, in the last analysis, matter: ‘In the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty,’ he wrote. “The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation’s moral standards.”