Brett “Boys Will Be Boys” Kavanaugh’s Hypocrisy Was on Full Display In Latest Devastating SCOTUS Ruling
This week, a truly terrible decision came down from the Supreme Court in the case of Jones v. Mississippi, which affects a court’s ability to sentence a minor to life without parole. Previously, the court had ruled that mandatory sentences of life without parole for a minor were a violation of the 8th Amendment (being cruel and unusual punishment), and that that sentence could only be issued in extreme cases as determined under a separate assessment.
What this new ruling did was to do away with the need for that separate assessment, making life without parole an option for minors, just so long as it wasn’t mandatory—basically leaving it up to the individual discretion of a sentencer.
A punishment of life without the possibility of parole is something that arguably should not even exist for juveniles, and this ruling does away with the limitations that were at least in place around it.
Today’s decision is a huge blow against the movement to end juvenile life without parole. As Sotomayor correctly notes in her dissent, the court “guts” precedents that had strictly limit JLWOP. This is a major defeat for JLWOP reform. https://t.co/XS5CPsa2In pic.twitter.com/fTczLRlYqN
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) April 22, 2021
As Justice Sonia Sotomayor highlights in her dissent, not only does this new ruling step on the fairly recent precedent set, but in his majority opinion, Brett Kavanaugh pretends that precedent doesn’t even exist. Sotomayor said Kavanaugh, along with the other conservative justices who ruled in favor here, “rewrites [the case of precedence] Miller and Montgomery to say what the Court now wishes they had said, and then denies that it has done any such thing. The Court knows what it is doing.”
“It admits as much,” she adds, accusing the justices of “burying” that precedent as a mere footnote and “[urging] lower courts to simply ignore Montgomery going forward.”
“The Court is fooling no one,” Sotomayor writes.
It is truly amazing that Brett Kavanaugh of all people felt comfortable and confident writing this opinion, in which he declares that there is no need for a court to determine whether a young person is capable of being rehabilitated before being served such a harsh sentence. This is, after all, the man who (successfully) argued in front of the Senate that it was unfair to judge him as an adult by his actions (either alleged or admitted) as a teenager.
Kavanaugh hard in favor of life in prison for people who make mistakes as teenagers. Well isn’t that special
— Virginia Heffernan (@page88) April 22, 2021
When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were both in high school, he and his supporters trotted out a lot of weak defenses, including and especially the idea that it is unfair to hold a man’s actions against him from when he was just a boy. As Kavanaugh told it, he was just a beer-loving teen whose view of the world and of women had been shaped by the era’s excessively misogynistic pop culture trends.
So what if his own high school yearbook bio made demeaning references to his female classmates, or that in college, he was part of a fraternity known for behaviors that “demean women” and an all-male secret society that was shut down after video surfaced of members chanting “No means yes, yes means anal” in front of the campus’ Women’s Center.
When all of this came out during Kavanaugh’s confirmation, what were we doing but trying to determine whether he had been or could be rehabilitated, or whether his actions as a youth constituted “permanent incorrigibility,” as Miller and Montgomery—the precedent Kavanaugh just overturned—said was necessary?
Of course, it’s not surprising that Kavanaugh sees the crimes and other reflections of his character as a youth as being different from those young people who would be affected by this ruling. He went to Yale and before that—during the time Blasey Ford says he attacked her—a posh prep school. Meanwhile, Black youth are five times more likely to be arrested than white youth (as a national average—in some states that rate is twice that), and Black and Latinx people are historically far more likely to receive harsher sentences than their white counterparts.
This new ruling, which leaves the discretion up to the sentencer, seems designed to only widen those gaps. And while Kavanaugh’s defense of himself boiled down to “boys will be boys,” this ruling gives no thought to those young people for whom real trauma may have played a role in the violent crimes they have been convicted of.
Jones v. Mississippi upholds the ruling in a lower court case, in which Brett Jones was sentenced to life without parole for killing his grandfather when Jones was just 15 years old.
Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin writes that in her dissenting opinion,
Sotomayor also reminds those reading that Jones was “the victim of violence and neglect that he was too young to escape,” with an alcoholic biological father who abused his mother and a stepfather who abused him with “belts, switches, and a paddle” and openly declared his hatred for Jones. When, per Sotomayor, Jones moved in with his grandfather—who abused him as well—he abruptly lost access to medications he was prescribed for mental health issues, including hallucinations. In 2004, when his grandfather tried to hit him, Jones says he stabbed him in self-defense.
Those are circumstances that Kavanaugh couldn’t possibly fathom, and while in an ideal world, Supreme Court justices would have both empathy and a respect for precedent, it is clear he has neither.
(image: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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