00-8452P - Cite as: 536 U. S. _ (2002) 1 REHNQUIST, C. J.,...

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Cite as: 536 U. S. ____ (2002) 1 REHNQUIST, C. J., dissenting SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES _________________ No. 00&8452 _________________ DARYL RENARD ATKINS, PETITIONER v. VIRGINIA ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA [June 20, 2002] CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom JUSTICE SCALIA and JUSTICE THOMAS join, dissenting. The question presented by this case is whether a na- tional consensus deprives Virginia of the constitutional power to impose the death penalty on capital murder defendants like petitioner, i.e. , those defendants who indisputably are competent to stand trial, aware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why, and whose mental retardation has been found an insufficiently com- pelling reason to lessen their individual responsibility for the crime. The Court pronounces the punishment cruel and unusual primarily because 18 States recently have passed laws limiting the death eligibility of certain defen- dants based on mental retardation alone, despite the fact that the laws of 19 other States besides Virginia continue to leave the question of proper punishment to the indi- viduated consideration of sentencing judges or juries familiar with the particular offender and his or her crime. See ante , at 9&10. I agree with JUSTICE SCALIA, post , at 1 (dissenting opinion), that the Court±s assessment of the current legis- lative judgment regarding the execution of defendants like petitioner more resembles a post hoc rationalization for the majority±s subjectively preferred result rather than any objective effort to ascertain the content of an evolving standard of decency. I write separately, however, to call
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2A T K I N S v. VIRGINIA REHNQUIST, C. J., dissenting attention to the defects in the Court&s decision to place weight on foreign laws, the views of professional and religious organizations, and opinion polls in reaching its conclusion. See ante , at 11±12, n. 21. The Court&s sugges- tion that these sources are relevant to the constitutional question finds little support in our precedents and, in my view, is antithetical to considerations of federalism, which instruct that any ²permanent prohibition upon all units of democratic government must [be apparent] in the opera- tive acts (laws and the application of laws) that the people have approved.³ Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U. S. 361, 377 (1989) (plurality opinion). The Court&s uncritical accep- tance of the opinion poll data brought to our attention, moreover, warrants additional comment, because we lack sufficient information to conclude that the surveys were conducted in accordance with generally accepted scientific principles or are capable of supporting valid empirical inferences about the issue before us. In making determinations about whether a punishment is ²cruel and unusual³ under the evolving standards of decency embraced by the Eighth Amendment, we have emphasized that legislation is the ²clearest and most reliable objective evidence of contemporary values.³ Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U. S. 302, 331 (1989). See also McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U. S. 279, 300 (1987). The reason we ascribe
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This note was uploaded on 11/15/2011 for the course CJ 471 taught by Professor Christophersmith during the Fall '10 term at Michigan State University.

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00-8452P - Cite as: 536 U. S. _ (2002) 1 REHNQUIST, C. J.,...

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