Obama: Stop Pandering To Barbarians

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

cross posted from The Dream Antilles

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this week that Louisiana’s statute permitting the death penalty for child rape was unconstitutional.  The decision was a step against extending the barbarianism of the death penalty to crimes in which the victim was not killed.  

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the opinion, saying, in essence, that the crime, awful as it is, does not merit capital punishment.

“The incongruity between the crime of child rape and the harshness of the death penalty poses risks of over-punishment and counsels against a constitutional ruling that the death penalty can be expanded to include this offense,” Kennedy wrote.

He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.


Put simply, a majority of the Supreme felt that as a substantive matter, the death penalty for child rape was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and could not be permitted.

And now, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, says that he disagrees with the ruling.  This from AP:

Democrat Barack Obama said Wednesday he disagrees with the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing executions of people who rape children, a crime he said states have the right to consider for capital punishment.

“I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes,” Obama said at a news conference. “I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution.”

Further explanation:

Obama, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, said that had the court “said we want to constrain the abilities of states to do this to make sure that it’s done in a careful and appropriate way, that would have been one thing. But it basically had a blanket prohibition and I disagree with that decision.”

Obama’s view boils down to this:  if the death penalty is “done in a careful and appropriate way” (an oxymoron if I ever saw one) it’s ok for a state to expand the crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed.  This is logic that would have Obama arguing that the 1977 decision in Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977), a “blanket prohibition” of execution for adult rape was incorrectly decided.  Or that the decision in Roper v. Simmons, imposing a “blanket prohibition” against executing children was incorrectly decided. Didn’t Georgis and Kentucky think that these were appropriate cases for death that they would impose “in a careful and appropriate way”?

In fact, Obama’s argument sounds an awful lot like the 4 dissenting, conservative, pro-death penalty views in the Supreme Court:

The four members of the court’s conservative wing also sharply criticized the ruling, saying a small but growing number of states had determined that the rape of a child deserved the death penalty; they said the court majority was interfering with that judgment.

“The harm that is caused to the victims and to society at large by the worst child rapists is grave,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote. “It is the judgment of the Louisiana lawmakers and those in an increasing number of other states that these harms justify the death penalty.”

Alito was joined in his dissent by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.


How wonderful.  A states’ rights argument about state killing advanced by 4 conservative judges and Barack Obama.

And of course, John McSame, never to be left out of espousing barbarian views has the same position as Obama on the ruling:

His probable Republican opponent in the presidential race, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also objected.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is an assault on law enforcement’s efforts to punish these heinous felons for the most despicable crime,” McCain said. “That there is a judge anywhere in America who does not believe that the rape of a child represents the most heinous of crimes, which is deserving of the most serious of punishments, is profoundly disturbing.”

Both candidates for president and 4 justices of the Supreme Court all espouse an expansion of the crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed by states.  This is not “hope”.  This is barbarism, plain and simple.  In a world in which the opinion is that the death penalty should be curtailed, the Democratic candidate is arguing for its expansion.

Obama’s just not going to have a Dukakis moment on the death penalty.  If it would get him elected, he’d suggest that we use electric bleachers for mass executions of child rapists.

I’m deeply saddened but hardly surprised by Obama’s pandering.  I only wish there were others who were as disgusted as I am who would call his campaign to task.


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  1. Thanks for reading.

    • brobin on June 26, 2008 at 22:21

    and the guy isn’t even President yet.  If he keeps pandering to the right, he most likely never will be.

  2. about just who Obama plans to pick for his SC Justices.

    After all, he did once argue that John Roberts is in the ‘mainstream of American jurisprudence’.

    It’s this non-ideological lens through which much of the country viewed Judge Roberts’ confirmation hearings.   A majority of folks, including a number of Democrats and Independents, don’t think that John Roberts is an ideologue bent on overturning every vestige of civil rights and civil liberties protections in our possession.  Instead, they have good reason to believe he is a conservative judge who is (like it or not) within the mainstream of American jurisprudence,

    As you say, he could be just pandering.  

    But what if he’s not?

    • pico on June 26, 2008 at 23:45

    I was watching some news network last night – I forget which – and they were going on and on about how horrific child rape was, only barely acknowledging the issue.   Worse: this wasn’t an editorial or FOX, this was a mainstream ‘report’ on the decision.  It was like watching an advertisement for vigilantism.  

    I haven’t read the decision so I don’t know if I agree with Obama on whether the death penalty for child rape is “Constitutional” in a strict legal sense, but I can sure as hell disagree with him on “applicable” in any sense.  

    Personally I’d just rather ditch the death penalty altogether and rejoin the 21st century.

    What’s being little discussed is that victims rights advocates are apparently applauding the decision: the potential for the death penalty only puts them in greater danger and, as one survivor of child rape noted in that news report, makes the victim doubly afraid to tell (because perpetrators tend to be people the victim otherwise loves/trusts).  Hard to get that heard over the din of – appropriate word, davidseth – the barbarians.

    • Viet71 on June 27, 2008 at 00:47

    His goal is to get elected president.

    One might like him as a candidate.

    One might have reservations.

  3. .. for Obama supporters who are far more progressive than him ?  I think Obama and his handlers are betting that there’s a lot of room to go.

    He’s definitely lost me; I’m continue to be surprised that he keeps dropping the bar lower.

    I think the only reason left for most people is the Supreme court appointments. I think they are going to be very unpleasantly surprised by Obama’s choices.

    • geomoo on June 27, 2008 at 01:57

    The truth of the statement was immediately obvious to me.

    I’m against the state having the right to kill.  That being said, the discussion of this decision caused me to want to register that, in my view, there are crimes worse than murder.  I can imagine having something done to me that would make me say I wish I had been killed instead.  Therefore, if we are to discuss whether capital punishment should be restricted to cases of murder, I disagree.  Unless there is no way to reliably define crimes more heinous than murder.  I’m not sure I would want to leave it to a jury to a make that determination.  In any case, I don’t want the state to kill people, even for crimes worse than murder.  Which puts me in solid alignment with the civilized world.

  4. This is just the latest of a long list that I would expect from a conservative Republican.

  5. you don’t even have to do anything outrageous like supporting the majority opinion to support the result.

    You only have to say, “when we apply the death penalty to horrible crimes other than murder, we encourage criminals to kill potential witnesses to their crime.” “This is especially the case here, in crimes which are so very hard to prosecute”.

    Yeah, it would definitely be ducking the fight against the death penalty … but then, that is the point I am making. This is one where you don’t have to side with Scalia in order to duck the fight against the death penalty. And still the expected “pivot to the center of the right wing” is the option chosen.

    What can I say except “I told you so”, back in late January when the race narrowed down to two Corporatist Democrats.

    At this stage, its a matter of “pick the opposition to progressive policies you wish to see in the White House”, and after seeing Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II, I would rather have the Democratic Corporatist to the radical reactionary authoritarians, thanks.

    Sure, I’d rather a progressive in the White House, but if ifs and buts were candies and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.

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