Monday, May 17, 2010

Justice Kennedy Gets It

Once again, U.S. Supreme Court ustice Anthony Kennedy shows that he gets it. The Reagan appointee, who has spoken out eloquently against mandatory minimums in the past, took another whack last weekend. Here’s an excerpt from Newsmax's write-up:

Kennedy was asked if empathy can be “perfectly excised” from the judiciary.

"No. If lack of empathy means that you close your eyes to the consequences of the law’s decree, that’s just silly.”

Kennedy noted that the courts supervise the criminal system, and said that due to mandates largely from the legislative branch, jail sentences in America are eight times longer than in England and Western Europe for equivalent crimes. His home state of California, he said, has nearly 200,000 people in prison, at a cost of $32,500 a year for each inmate.

"Capital defendants in a single windowless, 12-by-8-foot cell for 20 years waiting for their sentence — you’re not supposed to know this when you’re a judge?

“So of course empathy has a role.”

When a questioner referred to comments Kennedy made in 2004 about America’s exploding prison population, the justice responded:

"If you were asked to design a penal system that would win the prize for the worst system, the one you’ve got would at least be runner-up.

“If cost is a way to activate human compassion, I’ll take it. We are squandering our resources and spending them in the wrong way.”

Kennedy said he approves of sentencing guidelines but is critical of mandatory minimums that are often imposed in drug cases.

Asked how he would define an activist court, Kennedy quipped: “An activist court is a court that makes a decision that you don’t like.”