Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has broken his silence on his colleagues’ inconsistent arguments when it comes to cases against children.
According to the Washington Examiner, Thomas wrote in a footnote in a recent opinion that while minors — in particular, teenagers — have been given wide latitude by the court to make decisions related to abortion, the court hasn’t viewed them as mature enough to take accountability for crimes including murder.
“Ebbs and flows”
Justice Thomas’ broadside against his colleagues on the bench reportedly came in a concurring opinion authored alongside the majority in the case of Jones v. Mississippi.
The case centered on procedural questions regarding the sentencing of minors convicted of crimes.
“When addressing juvenile murderers, this Court has stated that ‘children are different’ and that courts must consider ‘a child’s lesser culpability,” Thomas wrote in the footnote.
“And yet, when assessing the Court-created right of an individual of the same age to seek an abortion, Members of this Court take pains to emphasize a ‘young woman’s right to choose,'” the justice added.
He went on: “It is curious how this Court’s view of the maturity of minors ebbs and flows depending on the issue.”
A 6-3 ruling
More broadly, Justice Thomas also seemed to chastise fellow Republican-appointed members of the Supreme Court — all of whom had joined together in a majority opinion in the case authored by Justice Brett Kavanaugh — for not going far enough in correcting a “demonstrably erroneous” prior ruling that was cited as precedent in the latest case, as SCOTUSblog reported.
That precedent came in a case known as Montgomery v. Lousiana, which dealt with sentencing guidelines and procedures for minors convicted of murder and other felony crimes that could result in a sentence of life in prison without parole.
The petitioner in the current case, Brett Jones — who was convicted and sentenced to life without parole after killing his grandfather at age 15 — had used that and other prior cases to argue that such a sentence can’t be applied to minors, at least without a judge ruling the child “permanently incorrigible.”
The Supreme Court disagreed, however. In a 6–3 decision, the court ruled that precedents set in cases like Montgomery merely require sentencing judges to “consider” age as a potential mitigating factor.
Judges are then allowed to use their own “discretion” in issuing a sentence, which could be life without parole, though such a sentence can’t be made mandatory.