On June 25 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the imposition of a death sentence for the crime of rape of a child is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional. The opinion (pdf), written by Justice Kennedy on behalf of himself and 4 of his colleagues, is well-reasoned. As an opponent of the death penalty, I believe that the Court's decision is correct.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama immediately announced that he opposed the decision, saying, "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." He has thus put himself in the position of attacking the ultra-conservative Supreme Court from the right on the issue of capital punishment.
Those of us who believe that capital punishment is a moral and legal nightmare are, unfortunately, used to watching liberal politicians pander to the public's pro-death penalty sentiments, especially if we live in Texas. All of the Democratic candidates for Texas governor in my memory have supported executions, including the sainted Ann Richards. Bill Clinton notoriously took a break from campaigning for president in 1992 so that he could go home to Arkansas and sign the death warrant for Ricky Ray Rector, a brain-damaged death row inmate. Nevertheless, given the facts that public support for the death penalty seems to be declining and Obama, a former professor of constitutional law, might be expected to have a more sophisticated view of the subject than most politicians, I had hoped for better from this candidate.