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March 25, 2005

On Our Black Robed Masters And The "Evolving Standards of Decency"

Topics: News

William Kristol has a common sense article in the April 4, 2005 Weekly Standard that's worth the reading time.

Among other things Kristol mentions an event in September 1993, when then teenager Christopher Simmons decided it would be interesting to kill someone. Convinced that he wouldn't be prosecuted for it because was a minor, he broke into the house of Shirley Crook in Jefferson County, Missouri, bound her hands and feet, drove her to a bridge, covered her eyes and mouth with tape, and threw her into the Meramec River to die. He confessed to killing her and was subsequently sentenced to death according to the laws of Missouri. Last month the Supreme Court saved Simmons's life. According to the men in the long black robes, the citizens, legislators, and governor of Missouri (and those of 19 other states) had fallen grievously and unconstitutionally behind "the evolving standards of decency that mark a maturing society." Five justices decided that the Constitution prevented anyone under the age of 18 from being sentenced to death. So Christopher Simmons will live.

Contrast the saving of the life of a killer by our black robed masters, with the decision by the very same "men of darkness" that decided Terri Schiavo should die! They have chosen to strike down legislation passed by the Florida legislature, and signed by the governor, to permit the governor to allow water and nutrition to be given to patients who leave no written directive, and to allow some recourse for family members who wish to challenge the withholding of nutrition and hydration.

(...) Last week, federal judges chose to dismiss, out of hand, extraordinary legislation passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the president, which asked the federal courts to take a fresh look at the case. The federal judges chose not to explain why "evolving standards of decency" might not allow Terri Schiavo to be kept alive until the case was argued in federal court. The judges assumed nothing new or meaningful would be learned from such an argument, or that the federal legislation might be found unconstitutional. The federal judges chose not to bother to explain why either might be the case.

(...) So our judges deserve some criticism. But we should not be too harsh. For example, it would be wrong to suggest, as some conservatives have, that our judicial elite is systematically biased against "life." After all, they have saved the life of Christopher Simmons. It would be wrong to argue, as some critics have, that our judges systematically give too much weight to the husband's wishes in situations like Terri Schiavo's. After all, our judges have for three decades given husbands (or fathers) no standing at all to participate in the decision whether to kill their unborn children. It would be wrong to claim that our judges don't take seriously legislation passed by the elected representatives of the people. After all, our judges are committed to upholding the "rule of law"--though not, perhaps, the rule of actual laws passed by actual lawmakers. And it would be wrong to accuse our judges of being heartless. After all, Judges Carnes and Hull of the 11th U.S. Circuit told us, "We all have our own family, our own loved ones, and our own children."


I must admit to falling short in understanding why the very same "evolving standards of decency" applied to saving the life of a killer, doesn't in turn allow Terri Schiavo to be kept alive until the case was argued in federal court. Perhaps our evolving standards of decency or evolving in the wrong direction and it is far time to see to it that the insanity is brought to a screeching halt!

cross posted at hyscience

Posted by richard at March 25, 2005 12:29 PM


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