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SCOTUS strikes down “Jessica’s Law”

Breaking news.

The Supreme Court declared Wednesday that executions are too severe a punishment for child rape, despite the “years of long anguish” for victims, in a ruling that restricts the death penalty to murder and crimes against the state.

The court’s 5-4 decision struck down a Louisiana law that allows capital punishment for people convicted of raping children under 12. It spares the only people in the U.S. under sentence of death for that crime — two Louisiana men convicted of raping girls 5 and 8.

The ruling also invalidates laws on the books in five other that allowed executions for child rape.

One of those states, of course, is Texas.

However devastating the crime to children, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion, “the death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child.” His four liberal colleagues joined him, while the four more conservative justices dissented.

There has not been an execution in the United States for a crime that did not also involve the death of the victim in 44 years, a factor that weighed in Kennedy’s decision.

Rape and other crimes “may be as devastating in their harm, as here, but ‘in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public,’ they cannot be compared to murder in their ‘severity and irrevocability,'” Kennedy said, quoting from earlier decisions.

The decision can be found here (PDF, via BOR). Adam B has some longer quotes from the decision. Grits has some linkage, plus a bit of background info from Texas District and County Attorneys Association spokesperson Shannon Edmonds. Here’s a statement on the ruling from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Both TAASA and the TDCAA opposed Jessica’s Law during the last legislative session. None of this will stop the usual suspects from cranking up the outrage (see that Salon AP story for a few choice quotes) or from trying again, though the consensus so far seems to be that this is a definitive ruling. I just don’t think this law’s proponents will give up that easily.

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