Life Sentences for Juevenile Offenders

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that juvenile offenders guilty cannot constitutionally be incarcerated for life without parole unless guilty of homicide.  Unsurprisingly, this case was decided along liberal/conservative lines with Justice Kennedy authoring the opinion and Justice Roberts concurring in the judgment.

Putting aside whether I agree with the State’s ability to impose life sentences on non-homicidal crimes for juvenile defendants, the larger – and significantly more troubling issue is whether the State’s decision to make these sentencing decisions may violate the Eighth Amendment.  In other words, should the Constitution be interpreted in light of “evolving standards of decency”?  The majority answered this in the affirmative.  The problem though is that these “evolving standards” actually restrict liberty rather than promote state autonomy. 

I understand that that it may appear unseemly at best and barbaric at worst to impose life sentences on those that have not committed murder (and its lesser included offenses).    But does it violate the Constitution?  Is it cruel and unusual punishment?

The Constitution is not a document that changes according to the disposition of its citizens from one generation to the next; and it should not be interpreted as such.  When the Court reserves in itself the power to strike the constitutionality of laws based on current standards, it reaches inconsistent results.  After all, if I think the law is okay and someone else does not like the punishment it’s hard to tell whether or not the law will be upheld.  In a word: the court becomes unpredictable.  It is led by sticking its finger into the air to determine which way the wind is blowing. 

What may be fine one year becomes suspect in the next. 

A state loses part of its autonomy to govern its citizens when select individuals on a court may invoke “changing times” to invalidate a state action.   A constitutional law in one year because impermissible in another.  Rather than pursing a legislative remedy, the court provides the quick fix. 

The outcome may seem appropriate when first used, but circumventing the legislative branch only leads to more trouble down the road.  See: abortion, homosexual marriage, contraceptives, gay “rights” etc.

Nobel Prize Committee Defends Obama’s Award

The running joke is that President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for one reason: he wasn’t George W. Bush.

But even more humorous, the Nobel Prize Committee defended its award claiming that Barrack Obama’s accomplishments merited it.

Let’s give the award some context though. The Nobel Peace Prize is meant to be awarded for recognition of accomplishments made “during the preceding year.” Nominations for the Prize end on February 1 at which point the candidates are vetted, names are whittled down until a handful remain, and then one is chosen.

So, let’s fill in the blanks. What did Obama do prior to February 1? Let’s see… He ascended to the Presidency two weeks earlier. Before that he was a junior senator from Illinois. Does that about cover it?

The Norwegian Nobel Peace committee apparently saw it differently:

To those who say a Nobel is too much too soon in Obama’s young presidency, “We simply disagree … He got the prize for what he has done,” committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland told The Associated Press by telephone from Strasbourg, France, where he was attending meetings of the Council of Europe.

Jagland singled out Obama’s efforts to heal the divide between the West and the Muslim world and scale down a Bush-era proposal for an anti-missile shield in Europe.

“All these things have contributed to — I wouldn’t say a safer world — but a world with less tension,” he said.

Read that last sentence again. Okay, never mind that the world is not safer – there is less tension. Currently America is engaged in Iraq and 13,000 more troops are being deployed to Afghanistan. North Korea is developing nuclear capabilities and Honduras is in its own little world. Less tension? For relaxing a Bush policy?

I’m not sure what was in the Committee’s happy-juice:

“Alfred Nobel wrote that the prize should go to the person who has contributed most to the development of peace in the previous year,” Jagland said.

“Who has done more for that than Barack Obama?”

Good question Mr. Jagland. Maybe you should have reviewed the other candidates on your list first.

A Legal Ethic

After taking Professional Responsibility & Legal Ethics this past semester in law school, I devised in essay form my own legal ethic:

Although I’m not studying to become a professor, I wouldn’t consider myself the black sheep of my family. My mom, dad, and sister — all undergraduate English majors — now teach some brand of literature, writing, or philosophy. I, on the other hand, teach nothing, and my prospects in that direction don’t look too promising. Of course, that’s only natural, because I don’t feel called to teach. At least, not yet. Instead, for the time being, I feel called to litigate. In fact, I’m so confident that the law is where God wants me that, if I knew how genes worked, I might say it’s in my DNA.

What I cannot say so assertively is that the solutions to all of life’s ethical dilemmas are etched into my heart. Let me be clear: I almost always know the ethical course of action. It’s the acting that doesn’t come easy. I’ve probably said that going on a hundred times, and it’s becoming cliché, but I feel convicted every time I think about it. Well, at least, I want to feel convicted. I never want variety to supplant cliché when the cliché is actually worth remembering.

Yet a question plagues me: If even I struggle to lead an ethical life loads of the time — and for sounding particularly immodest and potentially naïve here, I apologize — what hope have my friends whose upbringings were far different from my own? After studying Legal Ethics and probing the minds of my classmates, I find that this question scares me and breaks my heart. Let me explain.

I attended a Christian school for twenty-one years, sat through chapel four to five times a week for over a decade, studied the Bible in at least one class during each semester of my academic career, and went to church on Sunday morning almost every week of my life. I guess you could say I grew up in a “moral” environment. And, sure, whenever I look back on my childhood and wonder why God chose to bless me, I shudder, smile, and sometimes even shed a tear. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Yet when I consider the future, it does. Based on all that He’s put me through and all that He’s saved me from, I know that I can confidently surrender to His will as He leads me into the next stage of my life.

After studying legal ethics this last semester, I’ve concluded that ethics are not learned. I’ve reach that conclusion because I don’t believe that, on a practical level, they make a whole lot of sense. They don’t generally make you wealthier or happier or more powerful. Why even act ethically in the first place? Seriously. What’s the point? Whom would I be trying to please?

The presupposition of most of my law school classmates seems to be that the good person — the good lawyer — acts ethically . . . just because. Of course, that statement says nothing because it assumes everything — specifically, what is good? We talked about this all the time in class. We were constantly asked what we would do in particular scenarios. What I find more intriguing than the what is the why. I wanted my classmates to be pressed to really uncover the basis, the foundation, of their ethics. Is it them? Is it their religion?

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it’s a little bit of both, and I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that the former constantly reshapes the latter in order to fit their ever-changing worldviews. If they only knew, I think to myself! At numerous times throughout the semester, I could hardly keep myself contained. I cannot understand how a discussion about ethics — legal or otherwise — can be held outside the realm of religious morality. (The professor, it should be noted, did a fabulous job exploiting that problem from start to finish, however slightly and surreptitiously at times.)

Having intentionally and comprehensively examined my legal ethic these last few months, I can confidently say that my faith directs my ethics. I was talking to a friend just last night about what our lives will be like as lawyers and about the constant struggles we will face. She and I share a similar worldview, so I took comfort in that. In the course of my discussion, the cliché of knowing versus doing came up. Yet this time, I spoke straight from the pool of truth in which I was bathed as a child. The words came out so clearly, and the truth sounded so obvious, that I nearly convicted myself right then and there: The confidence, the knowing that the story of my life has already been written from start to finish; the assurance, the promise I have that everything will work together for good; the knowledge, the faith that He is absolutely in control of my life — must I even hesitate when deciding whether to act ethically?

My faith assures me that I have been given every good thing. Yes, I might lose my job for failing to carry out a task; sure, I might lose the opportunity to pay off my law school loans as quickly as I’d like to. But who am I looking to please? In other words, whom do I serve?

God gave me so much as a kid, and yet I kept so much to myself. When He was asking for all of me, I wasn’t listening. I lived in a daze of self-centeredness. Yet as far away from Him as I was, God ran to me and pulled me back. If you ask me why God chose me, I won’t have an answer; after all, who am I that God would love me? Just another wandering sheep in the flock of a Shepherd whose love simply wouldn’t let me go.

Yet even when I was drifting, my God loved me enough to prepare me for what He would have me to do. Now, entering my third year of law school, I couldn’t be more certain what that is. Every day, I see the fields, white for harvest, and hunger for the opportunity to serve my God through the law.

Truth may be powerful enough to stand on its own, but it needs knowledgeable, passionate, ethical advocates to influence society — to disturb people and shake them out of their complacency and to inspire them to move their culture in a positive direction. My desire to be that advocate drove me to law school. Once I pass the bar, I intend to actively engage the legal culture to defend the rule of law and the code of legal ethics so that I might ultimately preserve Truth.

Feeding the White Elephant: Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

With the onset of the new president-elect Barack Obama accelerating toward the driver’s seat of democratically controlled Congress, conservatives cannot help but brace themselves for the sweeping reversal of many of Bush’s policies – particularly in regard to stem cell research. Parties on both sides of the aisle expect Obama to issue an executive order ending the government federal funding ban on embryonic stem cell (ESC) research.

With as much progress stem cell research has achieved, applying the brakes to this Bush policy will detrimentally alter forthcoming advancements. Moral issues aside, ESC research has been spinning in a rut since its inception. Fueling its “development” with federal funding will merely exacerbate the problem.

After nearly a decade, human ESC research is much like the wizard in Dorothy’s Oz: facially powerful, substantively empty. With the promise being a virtual panacea, consider the results: there have been zero treatments and zero clinical trials. Total cost: billions. The continuous mantra chanted by its advocates still sounds, “more time.” California committed $3 billion in tax-payer monies over 10 years with the goal of developing a single treatment. Connecticut and Maryland have invested millions as well. They still have virtually nothing to show.

Consider the alternative: adult stem cells have treated over 80 diseases with over 1,300 clinical trials. Advancements in cord blood banking, and induced pluripotent stem cells are leading the way in medical breakthroughs. Recently, European physicians completed the first successful transplant of a human windpipe using (you guessed it) adult stem cells. Plenty more could be said of treatments for leukemia, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia and heart disease.

The government should support what works; it makes common financial sense: invest in known, proven, un-problematic means to advance medicine for a guaranteed rate of return. But channeling that money into decade-long speculation without proven results serves to limit development in medical pioneering. It is essentially pork barrel spending.

ESC research is by no means limited as a “moral” issue. An executive order subsidizing this research merely feeds the white elephant.