Louisiana Asks Court to Revisit Rape Laws

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Louisiana Asks Court to Revisit Rape Laws

Post  Jennie on Tue Jul 22, 2008 1:28 pm

Louisiana Asks Court to Revisit Rape Laws


Lawyers for the State of Louisiana asked the United States Supreme Court on Monday to reconsider its decision last month striking down laws that made child rape a capital offense. The lawyers said the courtís decision overlooked two crucial legal developments: a 2006 federal law and a 2007 executive order making child rape a capital crime under military law.

In Court Ruling on Executions, a Factual Flaw (July 2, 2008) "Both political branches have recently and affirmatively authorized the death penalty for child rape," the petition said. "Such a clear expression of democratic will, at the very least, calls into question the conclusion that there is a 'national consensus against' the practice."

In his opinion for the majority last month, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy counted up the number of jurisdictions that allowed the death penalty for child rape. Finding only 6 states, he concluded that "on balance" and in light of "evolving standards of decency," there is a national consensus against such punishment.

But none of the briefs filed in the case had alerted the justices to the 2 federal legal developments arguably altering that calculus.

The lead lawyer on the rehearing petition is Neal Kumar Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown University who is usually associated with liberal causes. Professor Katyal represented Salim Ahmed Hamdan in the Supreme Court in a 2006 case that rejected the Bush administrationís initial plans to put GuantŠnamo prisoners on trial before military commissions.

"I am personally opposed to the death penalty, but I am also opposed to courts taking fundamental decisions away from American voters," Professor Katyal said. "Since the Supreme Courtís decision came down, new evidence has emerged that the justices may have been too quick to identify a national consensus in this case, so when the State of Louisiana gave me the chance to help, I was happy to accept."

The Justice Department did not file a brief in the case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, but it did issue a statement expressing regret for failing to tell the court about the 2006 law after the oversight was noted in a military law blog. In a statement on Monday, Erik Ablin, a spokesman for the department, said lawyers there would review the petition and consider whether to seek the courtís permission to offer the governmentís views on the case.

Jeffrey L. Fisher, a law professor at Stanford who represented the defendant in the case, Patrick Kennedy, said "rehearing is completely unnecessary." Military law does not apply to Mr. Kennedy, a civilian, Professor Fisher said, and Congress has not made child rape a capital offense for civilians.

Professor Fisher added that military law has long made rapes of both adults and children capital offenses in some circumstances. The innovation of the 2006 law was only to break out children as a separate category.

According to the petition filed Monday, the 2006 law is powerful evidence of the direction of public sentiment. "While Congress has not, as yet, applied the death penalty to child rape in the civilian context," the petition said, "the recent trend (not to mention the general parity between military and civilian law today) indicates that it may very well do so, if given the opportunity."

Petitions for rehearing are very seldom granted. In the term that began in October 2005, 710 petitions for rehearing were filed, and all of them were denied, according to "Supreme Court Practice," the leading manual on Supreme Court procedure.

But the court did grant a rehearing petition in June 2007, deciding to hear a case concerning the rights of prisoners held at GuantŠnamo Bay after all. The case, decided this June, ruled that the prisoners had a constitutional right to challenge their detentions in federal court.

(source: New York Times)
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