Such is the situation in Jones v. Mississippi. In that case, by a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court recently overturned precedent to uphold the life sentence without possibility of parole of Brett Jones, a juvenile offender, who was 15 at the time of his offense.
Over the past 16 years, the court had limited the use of the harshest penalties for juveniles, first striking down the juvenile death penalty and later restricting life imprisonment without possibility of parole to those whom a trial court had found to be “permanently incorrigible.” Such a finding had not been made in the Jones case.
What does all this have to do with elections? Well, look at the Supreme Court vote. The justices in the majority were Republican appointees, all: Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.* Opposed were the Democratic appointees Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Elections have consequences.
Brett Jones, the plaintiff in question, was 15 in 2004 when he stabbed his grandfather to death in an altercation about young Brett’s girlfriend. Irony abounds. The court’s majority opinion was written by Brett Kavanaugh. In a Washington Post opinion piece Ruth Marcus writes, “Brett Kavanaugh upheld Brett Jones’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing his grandfather just 23 days after his 15th birthday. (And, yes, let us pause here to note a certain irony in the fact that the opinion was written by a justice whose confirmation hearings featured discussion about how people can change after high school.)”
In arguing against the majority ruling, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that, while Jones is white, 70 percent of juvenile offenders sentenced to die in prison are children of color. She further noted that in Louisiana, where a finding of incorrigibility is not required, a life sentence without the possibility of parole has been imposed on 57 percent of eligible juvenile offenders. In Pennsylvania, where a finding of incorrigibility is required, fewer than 2 percent have received such a sentence.
There is no judicial recourse from a Supreme Court decision.
The timing of this decision is striking: A 15-year-old, in the heat of the moment, stabbed and killed his grandfather and is serving a lifetime in prison. His appeal from this sentence fails. This, on the heels of the conviction of Derek Chauvin, who spent 9 minutes and 29 seconds—plenty of time to reflect and change his behavior—choking the life out of George Floyd. Although Chauvin has not yet been sentenced, it is expected it will fall far short of the 40 years which could be imposed.
*And just think of this: Of the six, three were appointed by presidents whose last name was Bush (Thomas by George H.W. Bush, Roberts and Alito by George W. Bush) and three were appointed by Trump ( Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Comey). Just sayin’.