The Eighth Amendment isn’t on the ballot

This is why I do not like Justice Antonin Scalia as a Supreme Court Justice:

Like other human institutions, courts and juries are not perfect. One cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly. That is a truism, not a revelation. But with regard to the punishment of death in the current American system, that possibility has been reduced to an insignificant minimum. This explains why those ideologically driven to ferret out and proclaim a mistaken modern execution have not a single verifiable case to point to, whereas it is easy as pie to identify plainly guilty murderers who have been set free. The American people have determined that the good to be derived from capital punishment—in deterrence, and perhaps most of all in the meting out of condign justice for horrible crimes—outweighs the risk of error. It is no proper part of the business of this Court, or of its Justices, to second-guess that judgment, much less to impugn it before the world, and less still to frustrate it by imposing judicially invented obstacles to its execution.

(concurring opinion in Kansas v. Marsh, 04-1170)

Reprehensible logic. The possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly is indeed a truism. However, when the punishment is death, “reduced to an insignificant minimum” is not acceptable. Executing an innocent man is murder, regardless of how happy the American people are with the derived good. Gleeful retribution is not a derived good. The possibility of a mistake is exactly the reason the government should not have the power to execute a prisoner. Do we still believe in a society where individual rights are protected from the whims of the majority?

Just as disturbing is Justice Scalia’s abdication of judicial responsibility. It’s an accepted position by the Court that capital punishment is Constitutional. But, and this is important, it makes no difference that the people love sending convicted felons to the executioner. The Court’s role is to interpret the Constitution. Interpreting “cruel and unusual” warrants a look, regardless of the outcome, beyond blind deference to mob rule. (Or taking collective joy in thumbing our judicial noses at for’ners.) If it doesn’t, there is no reason to bother with a Constitution.