A couple of weeks ago, Maryland’s progressive General Assembly, led by Democrats, abolished life without parole for defendants convicted of murder before the age of 18 — and they did this over the veto of the Republican governor, Larry Hogan. (The legislature also took the Maryland governor, present and future, out of the parole process for lifers, making it more about justice and not about politics.)
What is the point of sentencing someone who’s brain is not fully developed to LWOP — life without the possibility of parole — except to inflict cruel and unusual punishment on a minor?
The Supreme Court of the United States, now stacked with conservatives (three of them appointed by the worst president in American history) reversed a recent trend of the court to take a more enlightened view toward kids who kill. In a ruling this week, the court made it easier to sentence kids to LWOP. The court’s ruling was 6-3, with the conservative majority content to overrule recent court precedent — and to what end?
LWOP for juveniles defies brain science and it is immoral. (I make no apology for being an absolutist on this issue.) This is Trump’s legacy, a Supreme Court that supports the kind of punishment strictly forbidden by the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. “How low this Court’s respect for stare decisis has sunk,” Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.
And she added this: “The harm from these sentences will not fall equally. The racial disparities in juvenile LWOP sentencing are stark: 70 percent of all youths sentenced to LWOP are children of color.”
Half of the states and the District of Columbia have abolished LWOP as an option for judges sentencing those convicted as juveniles. And that’s where we are — we have half a decent country.