The Supreme Court continued its disturbing trend of devaluing children with its Patrick Kennedy v. Louisiana decision. By a 5 to 4 majority (how familiar is that phrase becoming?) the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional for even the brutal rape of a small child (the victim in this case was 8 years old when she was raped by her stepfather) unless the child has actually physically been murdered.
Justice Kennedy writing for the majority (Justice Kennedy is the majority in all of the 5-4 decisions.) and supported by the Court’s liberal block (Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Souter) ruled that the “death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child.”

Justice Alito (joined by his conservative colleagues Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts) argued that “the harm that is caused to the victims and to society at large by the worst child rapist is grave.” Justice Kennedy’s belief is that while child rape “may be devastating…in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person…,” it “cannot be compared to murder in…’severity and irrevocability.'”
People who have had to comfort, counsel or treat victims of child rape would agree that Justice Alito and his conservative minority have much the better of this argument. Dr. Leonard Shengold, clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, documents the catastrophic devastation of such childhood victimization in his book, Soul Murder: The Effects of Childhood Abuse and Deprivation.
Dr. Shengold, drawing on a decades long career and clinical experience, furnishes a vivid description of how such brutalization of a child–“soul murder”–culminates “in their psychic and spiritual annihilation.” My wife (a practicing psychotherapist) and I (a Baptist minister), based on our counseling experience, agree completely with Shengold’s assessment.
The Supreme Court’s decision did generate a meeting of the minds of Senators McCain and Obama. The Republican and Democrat candidates for president disagree on many things, but they are in agreement with their profound disagreement with this Supreme Court decision.
Senator Obama said, “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 does not violate our Constitution.”
Senator McCain issued an even more fierce condemnation of the Supreme Court’s ruling, calling it “an assault on law enforcement’s efforts to punish these heinous felons for the most despicable crime.” In expressing his deep concern over the ruling, McCain further stated, “That there is a judge anywhere in America who does not believe that the rape of a child represents the most heinous of crimes, which is deserving of the most serious of punishments, is profoundly disturbing.”
Disturbing indeed!
More from Beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad