Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued two opinions that deal with capital punishment in this country.
May 31 SCOTUS Death Penalty Opinions: Tucker and Lynch
Read them here:
- Tucker v. Louisiana (petition for writ of certiorari denied May 31, 2016)
- Lynch v. Arizona (petition for writ of certiorari granted May 31, 2016)
The first one, coming out of Louisiana, upheld the death penalty sentence. The second one, coming from Arizona, went against the death penalty in that case.
So, what can we learn from these two cases? Well, reading and comparing them gives us a pretty clear picture of where the Justices stand on the issue.
In the Arizona case, Justices Thomas and Alito dissent. They would have kept the man, Shawn Patrick Lynch, on Death Row based in part on the "sheer depravity" of the underlying homicide. (The majority ruled based upon the failure of the jury to be instructed that the sole option to a death sentence was life without parole.)
In the Louisiana case, Justices Breyer and Ginsberg dissent. They looked to the geographical origins of the conviction, Caddo Parish, where almost "half the death sentences in Louisiana" arise even though "only 5% of that State’s population" comes from there.
Death Row petitioner Lamondre Tucker might not have received the death penalty if he had been tried in another part of the state, and accordingly the dissenters would have granted his petition.
Importantly, Breyer and Ginsberg come right out and suggest that the High Court needs to re-consider its position on the death penalty, and if capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore, unconstitutional.
The big deal? The empty seat.
Why Should We Care About These Two Cases?
What will happen to the death penalty when someone finally puts on those black robes and starts to work in the place left by the recent death of Justice Scalia? We read these opinions for clues, and ponder the future.
What does the New York Times think? That these cases support the current position of SCOTUS; they won’t declare the death penalty unconstitutional, but they will work to find ways to limit its usage. Do you agree?