International Law and the Juvenile Death Penalty
Our determination that the death penalty is disproportionate punishment for offenders under 18 finds confirmation in the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty. This reality does not become controlling, for the task of interpreting the Eighth Amendment remains our responsibility. (emphasis added)
It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime. See Brief for Human Rights Committee of the Bar of England and Wales et al. as Amici Curiae 10.11. The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions. (emphasis added)
It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom.
The Court also cited:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 6(5), 999 U. N. T. S., at 175
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Art. 37,
- American Convention on Human Rights: Pact of San José, Costa Rica, Art. 4(5)
- African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Art. 5(3)
I can't resist observing that the U.S. government has specifically reserved to the question of the execution of juveniles in signing and ratifying the ICCPR and in signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It may have done so also with the American Convention on Human Rights.
I am not sad to see the juvenile death penalty go away, but I do think it is odd that treaties to which the U.S. government specifically reserved the question at issue (the international legality of the juvenile death penalty) are being used as evidence of what the U.S. Constitution requires.