Rather than attempt to copy the journalistic aspect of this news, I will simply state that today the United States Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment for rape, regardless of the age of the victim, is cruel and unusual unless the victim is killed by the rapist.
This ruling is bound to be controversial, despite the fact that only five states had laws permitting capital punishment in cases of child rape and only Louisiana allowed such a sentence to be given on the first offense, because of the despicable nature of crimes against children and the moral outrage such crimes engender in the public. This moral outrage is the justification for the slippery slope sexual predator legislation that deprives sex offenders of many of their constitutional rights, which one could claim laid the mental justification for the battery of civil rights abuses in the 'Patriot Act' and the conduct of the Justice Department during this administration.
Despite the controversy, this ruling was the right one. Capital punishment is a slippery slope of its own, and every instance in which the government is allowed to kill people creates one more justification for the next instance. If one is morally opposed to capital punishment, one should be against capital punishment. Every horrible, vicious, disgusting crime which serves as an exception justifies judicial murder.
The author of the specific Louisiana law under scrutiny in this case said that even opponents of the death penalty would kill anyone who raped their own children. This is the natural parental impulse, yes. Parents defend their children or avenge them if they fail to protect them. Despite not being a parent, I can safely say that if I had a daughter and she was raped then I would want to kill the rapist myself.
This argument for judicial murder fails on two levels. First and foremost, people want to kill other people all the time. Violence is part of the package of instinctive responses to anger. Yet we, as sentient human beings, do not simply kill someone every time we want to kill someone. When we do, we are arrested and tried for murder. Parents may want to kill the rapist of their child, but the expression of that desire in the statement, "I would kill anyone who raped my child," is not proof that they would actually commit the deed under the circumstances. It is an expression of the natural emotional and instinctive reaction they experience at the mere thought of such a thing. If people truly killed people every time they wanted to do so, the murder rate would be far higher than it is even in our relatively murderous nation.
This leads directly into the second failure of the 'you'd do it if it was your kid' argument: people who know right from wrong know that murdering your child's rapist is not morally justified in a modern society of law. That doesn't mean that they would not choose to do so anyway, but it is no more morally justified to kill a child rapist because 'any parent would do it.' Despite the genuine and justified admiration for democratic input into the legal system, morality is not democratic. Something is right or it is wrong, and its popularity does not make it morally acceptable. Nor, as all our parents told us from a young age (whether they believed it or not) do two wrongs make a right.
The ancient Romans believed that there were only three appropriate legal punishments: punitive fines, exile (always accompanied by extremely harsh punitive fines unless undertaken voluntarily in lieu of trial), and execution. That's the moral ground that the slippery slope of acceptable capital punishment finally reaches if taken to its fullest measure.
If that's what you believe, then you are entitled to your opinion.
That doesn't mean that we should allow the government to be ruled by your standard.
Matters of Principle
2 weeks ago