Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Proportional Punishment

I, for one, was heartened by the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the limit that states may only apply the death penalty in response to crimes that result in death. As an Obama supporter, I am disappointed that Obama disagrees:

"I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes. I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime," he said, adding that if a state determines the death penalty should apply in such cases, they should be allowed to impose it.

Apparently, his disagreement arises from the view that killing is a form of self-expression:

he supports capital punishment in cases "so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment."

In contrast, I think that the act of destroying a life should be taken a little more seriously (or perhaps, I think that temper tantrums should be taken less seriously). When I remember Newt Gingrich's call to make drug dealing a capital offense, or the attempt of the Illinois legislature to make gang activity a capital crime, I'm glad that there is a Constitutional prohibition on expanding the use of the death penalty.

Virginia Sloan of the Constitution Project says it well:

That the rape of a child is a horrific crime that deserves a firm and swift punishment is not in doubt. But expanding the list of crimes eligible for the death penalty to include non-homicide crimes would have undermined the long-standing principle of civilized societies that reserves the ultimate penalty for those who commit the most heinous murders. Anything less than categorical exclusion of non-homicide crimes would have provided too great an opportunity for the unconstitutionally overbroad, random, arbitrary, and capricious application of the death penalty.

We are not the property of the state (or "the community"), and there must be a limit on what methods the government can use to coerce us for its ends.

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