Good, and also legal, ethical, just, fair and necessary.
Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Tsarnaev. It is, like most Thomas opinions, long, careful, thorough, and persuasive. The dissent by Justice Breyer, in contrast, is uncharacteristically weak, and the other two “liberal” justices did themselves no favors by joining it. Essentially, it is an example of exactly the judicial legislating that conservatives rightly complain about. Breyer grasps at a dubious legal straw to do indirectly what he cannot do directly: ban capital punishment, which is both legal and constitutional. His whole argument in his own nutshell:
During the sentencing phase of his murder trial, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev argued that he should not receive the death penalty primarily on the ground that his older brother Tamerlan took the leading role and induced Dzhokhar’s participation in the bombings. Dzhokhar argued that Tamerlan was a highly violent man, that Tamerlan radicalized him, and that Dzhokhar participated in the bombings because of Tamerlan’s violent influ-ence and leadership. In support of this argument, Dzho-khar sought to introduce evidence that Tamerlan previously committed three brutal, ideologically inspired murders in Waltham, Massachusetts. The District Court prohibited Dzhokhar from introducing this evidence. The Court of Appeals held that the District Court abused its discretion by doing so….
This Court now reverses the Court of Appeals. In my view, the Court of Appeals acted lawfully in holding that the District Court should have allowed Dzhokhar to introduce this evidence.
Weak. Dzhokhar admitted his role in the horrific terrorist bombings on April 15, 2013, which killed 3 people and injured hundreds, including 17 who lost limbs. His guilt was never in question. He was not a child, but an adult; nobody forced him to end or ruin so many lives. His defense, which was a last resort, amounted to a rationalization: he wasn’t as bad as his brother. He was bad enough, however. The evidence of three alleged murders that were never charged or proven was a tangential distraction, and as Thomas makes clear, the trial court was correct to reject it. Justice Breyer is using an intellectually dishonest argument because he doesn’t like executions, but can’t change the law. It is unethical judicial conduct to contrive a dissent like his, and unethical for his colleagues Kagan and Sotomayor to assist him.
Thomas concludes the majority opinion with appropriate bluntness:
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes. The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is reversed.
I am struck once again, reading the reader comments on the Washington Post article, how smug, threadbare, ill-considered and repetitious the anti-death penalty arguments are. It is telling that the worst of all is the one the Post features as the “most popular,” the supposed hypocrisy of “pro-life” advocates favoring capital punishment. This is an argument that qualifies as missing a material distinction: there is no hypocrisy in objecting to the killing of innocent, nascent human life and favoring executions of society’s worst murderers. It is and has always been a lazy argument that sounds clever and is favored by those who do not or cannot think very hard. And yet here is the Post’s top rated comment: “The Party of Life sure does love killing people…”.
The same commenter wrote this snotty reply to a reader who pointed out that the terrorist really did enjoy killing people: “So killing him makes it all better? That’s nice, dear.”
Just as the first comment marks this reader as an idiot, the second marks him or her as an idiot and an asshole. In fact, having an ultimate penalty reserved for the worst crimes when the perpetrator is guilty not just beyond a reasonable doubt but beyond any doubt does make society and the law better. It provides integrity, and a clear statement that some level of harm perpetrated on one’s own society forfeits all rights to exist in that society. Treason. Mass murder. Serial killing. Terrorism Murdering children. Bin Laden. Hitler. Stalin. Ted Bundy. The BTK Killer. Richard Ramirez.Timothy McVeigh. Dylan Roof.
Society has limited resources, and not a penny more than is absolutely necessary should be wasted on keeping such monsters alive.