When I heard yesterday about the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller vs. Alabama invalidating mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles who commit murder, I thought about this wrenching story by Rachel Aviv from the New Yorker. It’s about a kid named Dakotah Eliason who in a confused adolescent fugue shot his grandfather to death. According to yesterday’s followup piece by Aviv, he still doesn’t know why he did it.
Which is kinda the point, isn’t it? The teenage brain is not a rational decision engine. I can think of any number of stupid things I did as a teen that I’m lucky didn’t have much worse consequences than they did. There but for the grace of God, etc., etc. In one of the cases the Supremes considered, a 14-year-old was sentenced to life without parole for going along on a video store robbery where one of his older accomplices shot the clerk to death. To impose a one-strike-and-you’re-out rule on kids with such limited capacity for making sound decisions or anticipating the consquences of their bad decisions is really frightening and inhumane, and I’m glad five ninths of the Supreme Court agrees.
Naturally, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote siding with the majority. It’s unbelieveable how much this one man’s judgment influences our national policy. Here’s hoping he thinks universal health care is not a sin against God and the Constitution.
On the other side of the coin, Chief Justice John Roberts’s dissent wasn’t vituperative enough for Justice Samuel Alito, who felt he had to issue his own separate dissent, parts of which he read from the bench, which means he was really pissed about it. Jesus.