Cultural Revolutions

A Landmark Decision

The Supreme Court, in its landmark 6-3 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, has taken the penultimate step toward total elimination of the death penalty in the United States.  The facts of the case are clear: Daryl Atkins and an accomplice plotted to rob a customer in a convenience store; abducting their victim, they took him to an ATM and forced him to withdraw $200; they then drove to a remote area and released their victim, whom Atkins shot eight times for no apparent reason except to eliminate the witness.  The defense put forward by Atkins’ lawyers, that he scored 59 on an IQ test, was rejected by a jury, which may have put more stock in testimony that the murderer, though far from being a scholastic philosopher—or even rocket-scientist material—appeared to have normal intelligence.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, could not even pretend to find evidence that the execution of the dull and stupid had ever constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.”  Like all leftist lawyers, he had to fall back on the theory of progress as spelled out in a 1958 Supreme Court decision based on “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”  That decision was not given in 1758, when a plausible case might have been made that standards of decency were improving, but in 1958, after the two most destructive wars in human history,...

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