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Sunday, January 20, 2019

To the Honorable Antonin G. Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States:

Dear Sir:

Twenty-one years ago, your then-colleague, the late Justice Harry Blackmun, wrote what became a famous dissent to a Supreme Court decision not to review a Texas death penalty conviction. In it, Blackmun declared that he had become convinced “the death penalty experiment has failed” and said he considered capital punishment irretrievably unconstitutional.

The death penalty, he wrote, “remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination … and mistake. … From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

You mocked him for this stance in an opinion concurring with the majority, invoking as justification for capital punishment the horrific 1983 case of an 11-year-old girl who was raped then killed by having her panties stuffed down her throat. “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection,” you wrote, “compared with that!”

A few months later, the very case you had referenced came before the court. Henry Lee McCollum, a mentally disabled man who was on death row in North Carolina after having been convicted of that rape and murder, applied to the court for a review of his case. You were part of the majority that rejected the request without comment.

The demagoguery of your response to Justice Blackmun is pretty standard for proponents of state-sanctioned death. Rather than contend with the many logical and irrefutable arguments against capital punishment, they use a brute-force appeal to emotion. Certain crimes, they say, are so awful, heinous, and vile that they cry out for the ultimate sanction. For you, Sabrina Buie’s rape and murder was one of those, a symbol of why we need the death penalty.

As you have doubtless heard, it now turns out McCollum was innocent of that crime. Last year, he and his also mentally disabled half-brother Leon Brown (who had been serving a life sentence) were exonerated by DNA evidence and set free. A few days ago, McCollum was pardoned by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

The case against him was never what you’d call ironclad. No physical evidence tied him to the crime. The centerpiece of the prosecution’s case was a confession McCollum, then a 19-year-old said to have the mentality of a child 10 years younger, gave with no lawyer present after five hours of questioning. “I had never been under this much pressure,” he told the News & Observer newspaper in a videotaped death row interview, “with a person hollering at me and threatening me … I just made up a false story so they could let me go home.”

But he didn’t go home for over 30 years. You and your colleagues had a chance to intervene in that injustice and chose not to. Not incidentally, the real culprit avoided accountability all that time.

The argument against the death penalty will never have the visceral, immediate emotionalism of the argument in favor. It does not satisfy that instinctive human need to make somebody pay — now! — when something bad has been done. Rather, it turns on quieter concerns, issues of inherent racial, class, geographic, and gender bias, issues of corner-cutting cops and ineffective counsel, and issues of irrevocability, the fact that, once imposed, death cannot be undone.

Those issues were easy for you to ignore in mocking Blackmun. They are always easy to ignore, right up until the moment they are not. This is one of those moments, sir, and it raises a simple and obvious question to which one would hope you feel honor bound to respond. In 1994, you used this case as a symbol of why we need the death penalty.

What do you think it symbolizes now?

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: javacolleen via Flickr

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50 responses to “What Do You Think Now, Justice Scalia?”

  1. The lucky one says:

    What does he care? There is no accountability for the self-righteous asses of SCOTUS. Appointed for life no matter how blatantly partisan, incompetent and crooked. Some like Thomas have committed impeachable offenses but nary a peep from their colleagues. An event like this doesn’t diminish the integrity of the court, SCOTUS has no integrity and except for a few notable exceptions among it’s membership over the years it never has.

  2. paulyz says:

    While the lives of everyone are important, this article is about one life, ignoring all the lost lives of many thousands from the hands of Illegals as well as through abortion. Shows clearly what priorities they promote politically.

    • johninPCFL says:

      Yes. God should be tried and executed for all of the tens of millions of unborn He has claimed.

      • paulyz says:

        Say WHAT? Man chose to go against God’s will by ignoring His Laws. God’s plan was everlasting LIFE in Paradise on Earth.

        • JPHALL says:

          If that was really true, why are so many innocents dying? Why does God allow the Mansons, Hitlers and others like them flourish? Why does God allow pedophiles?

          • paulyz says:

            Everyone knows God created humans with a Free Will, to choose right or wrong according to His Laws. He didn’t create robots, he let man choose his own destiny. There is evil in the World because man is tempted by Satan, stated many times in the Bible. Satan’s control will eventually end, man will be judged.

          • JPHALL says:

            Same ole BS. Try that type a reasoning the next time a police officer pulls you over. Subject: Re: Comment on What Do You Think Now, Justice Scalia?

          • idamag says:

            I think the Bible says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” And Paul lies and lies and lied and then tries to sound pious.

          • paulyz says:

            And the Bible also says, “Thou shall not covet thy neighbors goods.” Your wanting stuff from the Federal Government by redistribution of others’ wealth.

          • Bob Eddy says:

            Your on pretty shaky theological ground with that one. Jesus said (he was the original Christian in case the name doesn’t ring a bell with you) that give unto Caesar what is his. Once those taxes are paid (as specified by Jesus) it is no longer my neighbor’s. You ought to read the Bible some time rather than cherry pick passages that fit your political leanings.

          • Bob Eddy says:

            Actually I believe it says “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife” pretty serious Freudian slip there! Outside your circle most don’t consider a wife to be part of one’s “goods!”

          • paulyz says:

            Read the 10 Commandments again Einstein, the 10th Commandment states Thou shall not covet thy neighbors’ wife, house, possessions, anything. God mentions clearly in the Bible that man & woman are equal partners. You Liberals like to nit-pic everything to try and fit things into your beliefs.

          • dpaano says:

            I don’t remember the bible saying that, and I’ve read it many times over! Maybe you need to go back and check your facts, Pauly!

          • paulyz says:

            Already did, mentioned how you Liberals make a huge issue over 1 life, but say nothing when many lives are lost because of Liberal policies.

          • Bob Eddy says:

            Because, you see, many more lives were saved than are lost because of “liberal policy”

          • Bob Eddy says:

            So what youre saying is that God screwed up…either by making terribly flawed humans or making the mistake of offering us free will.

          • paulyz says:

            No, that is what you are saying.

          • Bob Eddy says:

            No. That is what YOU said. You said he (or is it she) created humans with a free will and that he was not able, apparently, to create a human that could resist evil. Why not? Far be it from me to in any way denigrate your faith, but iif you choose to make these statements in a political forum to make a political point, I will challenge you.

          • paulyz says:

            Like I said, if God did like you said, we would all be programmed robots, not “choosing” to love & obey God, but “programmed” to, like an animal.

        • dpaano says:

          And you would know that how??? Do you talk to God and does he talk back to you? Interesting!

    • Bob Eddy says:

      This has absolutely nothing to with abortion. Perhaps that’s why it isn’t mentioned. You guys really have trouble staying on topic, don’t you.

      • paulyz says:

        You forgot lives lost at the hands of your beloved Illegals.

        • Bob Eddy says:

          No. I just don’t particularly care about right wing talking points that are based soley on hatred and ignorance. I’m betting right wing gun nuts have killed as many people as “illegals”

          • plc97477 says:

            Many more I would think.

          • wjca says:

            Lots more!
            But illegals don’t have Wayne LaPierre and his propaganda budget.

          • paulyz says:

            It was a Left wing wacko that shot Gabby Giffords & killed others. Americans killed by Illegals are MANY, MANY times more. And also the rapes by ILLEGALS.

          • Bob Eddy says:

            Actually, it wasn’t, but in wouldn’t expect a racist a55 hole like you to actually come up with anything but more incoherent, moronic drooling. Thanks for not disappointing me. Now go crawl back under your rock.

          • dpaano says:

            Apparently, Pauly has been listening to way too much Trump rants on FAUX News!

      • idamag says:

        Paul lyz and lies and lies.

  3. pisces63 says:

    There is no proof of many thousands of anyone killed by illegals. Get real. As for abortions, they are not here. They are not viable. usually when a woman decides on an abortion which is her right, not yours to deny, it is at a stage I dare you to identify it as human compared to whales, dogs, cats, etc., anything mammal. If every woman in in my unit got one, today, what would you know about it? Yet, if ONE dies unjustly, the world will know it. It isn’t ONE life. Illinois has banned the death penalty for this very thing that impacted more than one life. The prosecutors which a white grand jury exonerated were complicit in rail roading these men. I wonder how many are out there and THEY are viable and living.

    • paulyz says:

      Depending on where you get your information, yes there are thousands of Americans killed by Illegals, besides all the rapes & assaults. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you. Anywhere from 2,200 killed annually to over 4,000 annually.

  4. 2ThinkN_Do2 says:

    This case does not prove the Ultimate Penalty should be banned, it proves our justice system needs to do a better job of handing down the Ultimate sentence. There is no place for violation of rights in these cases or personal emotions. There are plenty of people/monsters that the Ultimate Penalty should be applied to.

    • Bob Eddy says:

      If this were an isolated case you may have a point. Sadly it isn’t. Our system is rife with cases like this and that is in spite of the fact that in most cases all investigation is stpped once the execution takes place. In addition, the death penalty has never proven to have any beneficial outcome. A barbaric practice that almost all modern civilizations have ended. We should join them.

    • pjm19606 says:

      Think about this: “The ultimate penalty” is actually the easy way out for those whom have been convicted of taking lives. They have already proven they have NO respect for life, including their own. Instead what we should be doing as a society is putting these “lifers” on a permanent chain gang. Then we will actually have a true repayment of their debt to society as they sweat rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of the US “for free”!

      • 2ThinkN_Do2 says:

        There ya go, give them jobs that people who actually respect others could have, people that deserve to be alive. I agree with Elliot, when the proof exists, it should be goodnight and none of this 5 -10 years later business. And enough of this it’s inhumane business and they suffered dying; c’est la vie. Oh, by the way, I don’t want someone sentenced to life in prison working on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. Do you really want to trust them with your life possibly? People paid good money screw up, what’s to stop these people from screwing up intentionally?

        • pjm19606 says:

          There ya go! Essential work is not getting done anyway.Our infrastructure is still crumbling. Why? Because no one wants to pay for it. So, why not get it done for free using prison labor. (4 million is a hell of a lot of free labor.). You Right Wingers can never see beyond your own selfishness! `”Trust them with my life”? They are on a “CHAIN GANG”, doing what they are ordered and supervised to do. No. I have NO problem with that. But the Unions across the country will. The companies who are used to milking those government contracts will. The Right is too stupid for words!

          • 2ThinkN_Do2 says:

            It’s not getting done because we’ve built a society that cannot be sustained. There are too many people and nothing is being done to to stop the influx; whether it’s legally born, illegally entered or other. Those at the top only care about profits and when things get really bad, well they already have their plans. Right, Left, wouldn’t know, I am neither; but there really isn’t much difference at the top of either.

      • plc97477 says:

        Not really for free. It costs a lot to guard, house, feed and clothe them.

    • johninPCFL says:

      The justice system is staffed by humans. It already is doing as well as it can. Based on the numbers of death-row inmates already freed by DNA evidence, hundreds of innocents have already been executed. At what point do we say we’ve killed enough innocent citizens? How much blood-lust can we tolerate?

    • Elliot J. Stamler says:

      I agree 1000%. Having long thought about this problem of an innocent person being executed I have come up with what I deem to be the most sensible solution…a fundamental and new change in the standard of proof for the jury or judge (trier of fact) before imposing a death sentence. We should depart from the centuries-old “beyond reasonable doubt” standard in d.p. cases to a new standard of “beyond all doubt.” This standard of proof would require the evidence show without any question that the defendant is guilty: for example: several eye-witnesses; clear and convincing DNA evidence, etc. This is doable.
      The enemies of capital punishment are in fact enablers of murders, terrorists, kidnappers, traitors, spies, etc. They are the kind of people with a pacifistic mindset…if we followed their advice in our national policies we would have wound up being ruled by Hitler or Stalin. And they would be just fine with that if it meant that no blood would be shed. The judicial taking of life is intolerable to them because they believe the state NEVER has the right to take life, period.
      They are wrong! There can be no compromise with such people; the philosophical/ideological difference is just unbridgeable. One last point: the divine commandment DOES NOT SAY: THOU SHALT NOT KILL. It says: THOU SHALT NOT DO MURDER. THAT IS THE CORRECT TRANSLATION AND IT IS IN MY BIBLE AND MOST OTHERS.

  5. Whatmeworry says:

    AS usual Pitts is off

  6. idamag says:

    One reason I don’t like the death penalty is that innocent people have been sentenced to die. I would be suspect of any Black person’s guilt, on death row, in Mississippi or Alabama. I remember reading about a man who, when DNA came about, asked for a retrial and for his DNA to be tested against the rape evidence, on file. He was turned down.

  7. dpaano says:

    Lately, the Supreme Court has lost ALL pretense of being non-partisan. Scalia is just another asinine conservative! Bought and paid for….

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