No Ruling on D.C. Gun Ban Today; Death Penalty Under Eighth Amendment Attack
I don’t have much time to spend looking at this today, but I’m sure the cobloggers will weigh in. Heller was not handed down. It will come tomorrow at 10:00am Eastern. Three outstanding cases remain from this term.
There were, however, two cases that I think are important. Though I am opposed to the death penalty, cases where a judge or justice overturns capital punishment because of the Eight Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment make me want to tear my hair out. That’s exactly what Justice Kennedy did today.
Exxon v. Baker: In a surprise ruling, the justices (except Alito) concurred that the punitive damages award was excessive. It will be limited to the amount of compensatory damages, which was $507.5 million. The opinion is here (PDF). This is a better holding than I expected, and includes some important discussion of punitive damages in American law.
Kennedy v. Louisiana: The Court 5-4 (usual suspects) holds that the death penalty for child rape is unconstitutional on Eighth Amendment grounds. Kennedy wrote the opinion, which is here (PDF). This is an important one because its reasoning would limit imposition of the death penalty to crimes that result in death or at least were intended to cause death. Kennedy’s opinion rests in part on “evolving standards of decency” and “the Court’s own judgment” on the “death penalty’s acceptability under the Eighth Amendment.”