That’s the question the Supreme Court answered in the negative today, in Graham v. Florida. The Court’s opinion was by Justice Kennedy, whose vote usually controls on Eighth Amendment issues, and it was joined by the four liberal justices.
The case generated oodles and oodles of pages and a welter of separate opinions. Thankfully, the AP has a fairly clear and concise summary:
The Supreme Court has ruled that teenagers may not be locked up for life without chance of parole if they haven’t killed anyone.
By a 5-4 vote Monday, the court says the Constitution requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release.
The court ruled in the case of Terrance Graham, who was implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17. Graham, now 22, is in prison in Florida, which holds more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for crimes other than homicide.
Florida: where it’s good to be an old person.
Interestingly enough, Chief Justice John Roberts — not known as a bleeding heart — agreed with the majority as to Terrance Graham specifically. Because he concurred in the judgment, the vote on the disposition of the case was actually 6-3.
The back-and-forth between the majority and the dissent gets quite heated at times. Justice Thomas wrote the main dissent, which Robert Barnes of the Washington Post described as “stinging.” But given the power that Justice Kennedy wields at One First Street, it’s generally unwise to attack him too harshly.
So the most snarky exchange did not involve Justice Kennedy, but took place between Justice Thomas and his soon-to-be-former colleague, Justice Stevens….