Supreme Court and Juvenile Death Penalty

Catholic Bishops and Other Religious Groups Urge Supreme Court to Halt Juvenile Executions

July 19, 2004

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Catholic Bishops call for an end to capital punishment, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined by 29 other religious organizations, have filed with the U.S. Supreme Court an amicus brief calling for a halt to the execution of persons who committed capital crimes as juveniles.

Just two years ago, the Court concluded that the execution of persons with mental retardation cannot be squared with the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.  It is our hope that the Supreme Court will now extend the same moral wisdom and legal reasoning to the use of the death penalty against those who committed capital crimes as juveniles.

We are pleased that representatives of a broad cross section of religious groups in the United States - reflecting Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist traditions - have joined in this effort.   It is our shared conviction that because of their age, juveniles lack the psychological maturity and judgment of adults and therefore should not be treated as adults for purposes of capital crimes.  Instead of resorting to the most severe and irreversible punishment our courts can impose, we believe society has an obligation always to hold out hope for the reform of those who as youths commit crimes, even the most terrible crimes.

As the Missouri Catholic Conference noted shortly after the Court agreed to hear the present case, “[i]t is hard to understand that a nation that requires persons to be 18 to be declared a legal adult, to vote, serve in the military, make decisions about their own medical treatment, or even buy a pack of cigarettes can allow adolescents to be treated like adults for the purpose of the death penalty.”  Missouri Catholic Conference, News Release (Jan. 28, 2004).

While we continue to work to oppose any use of the death penalty for what it does to human life and how it diminishes our society, we hope the Court will in this case, at least, strike down the use of this ultimate punishment against our children. 

Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Chair, Domestic Policy Committee