Kennedy v. Louisiana - Post Argument Brief

Docket number: 
No. 07-343
Supreme Court Term: 
2008 Term
Court Level: 
Supreme Court

No. 07-343


In the Supreme Court of the United States






Acting Solicitor General
Counsel of Record
Acting Assistant Attorney
Deputy Solicitor General
Assistant to the Solicitor
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
(202) 514-2217

Acting General Counsel
Associate Deputy General
Department of Defense
Washington, D.C. 20301

In the Supreme Court of the United States

No. 07-343







The Acting Solicitor General, on behalf of the United States, respectfully moves pursuant to Rule 21 for leave to file this brief as amicus curiae supporting respon dent's petition for rehearing. The United States has a substantial interest in rehearing because the Court's decision casts grave doubt on the validity of a recent Act of Congress and Executive Order of the President au thorizing capital punishment for child rapists under the Uniform CODE of Military Justice. The Court's decision and, in particular, its assessment of the "national con sensus with respect to the death penalty for child rap ists" (slip op. 15), was not informed by those recent pro nouncements. The United States regrets that it did not previously bring those pronouncements to the Court's attention. Because the Court did not have a complete description of the relevant legal landscape, the Court's decision rests on an erroneous and materially incom plete assessment of the "national consensus" concerning capital punishment for child rape. That error under mines the foundation for the Court's decision.

While the Court appropriately limits rehearing to extraordinary cases, rehearing is warranted here in light of the material error described above, and to per mit the Court to reconsider its decision in light of the currently prevailing moral judgment of society-as re cently expressed through the acts of the Nation's Legis lative and Executive Branches-that capital punishment is appropriate for child rapists. While the United States believes that the Court's decision is incorrect and that the State's law should be upheld under a proper analy sis, even if the Court reaches the same result following rehearing, rehearing is warranted to ensure that a mate rial omission in the decisionmaking process has not tainted the Court's decision on a matter of such pro found constitutional, moral, and practical importance. Accordingly, the United States urges the Court to grant rehearing.


The Court's divided decision holds that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a capital sentence for child rapists who do not kill and do not intend to kill their victims. Slip op. 1. That broad holding has no articulated excep tion, seemingly extending to all instances of child rape and any set of aggravating circumstances (short of the victim's death), no matter how extraordinarily heinous or depraved the offense, no matter the child rapist's prior criminal history, and no matter the limiting cir cumstances a State may prescribe in channeling the death penalty for child rape. See id. at 28-30.

The Court based that decision on two factors. First, the Court examined "objective indicia" of current soci etal norms, slip op. 11; see id. at 8, and concluded that a "national consensus" had emerged against capital pun ishment for child rapists, id. at 15, 36. See id. at 11-23 (citing Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005); Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002); Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982); and Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977) (plurality opinion)). Second, after stating that such "objective evidence of contemporary values" was entitled to "great weight," id. at 23, the Court applied its "own independent judgment" and ultimately concluded that "the death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child." Id. at 10, 35; see id. at 23-25.

Significantly, in finding a "national consensus" against capital punishment for child rape, the Court ex amined both state and federal legislation concerning capital punishment and child rape. Slip op. 15. That review led the Court to conclude that, while the Federal Government currently imposes capital punishment for some crimes, Congress has not "authorize[d] the death penalty for rape of a child." Ibid.; see id. at 12-13; see also dissenting op. 13 (Alito, J.). That conclusion, how ever, was in error. Just two years ago, Congress and the President explicitly authorized the death penalty for child rape.

In 2006, Congress enacted the National Defense Au thorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 (NDAA), Pub. L. No. 109-163, 119 Stat. 3136. That Act substantially re vised Article 120 of the Uniform of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. 920. See NDAA § 552(a)(1), 119 Stat. 3257; id. § 552(f), 119 Stat. 3263 (amendments effective October 1, 2007).1 Among other things, in enacting the NDAA, Congress sought to establish "a series of graded [sex] offenses * * * based on the presence or absence of aggravating factors" and, further, to specify "interim maximum punishments [for those crimes] based on the degree of the offense." H.R. Rep. No. 89, 109th Cong., 1st Sess. 332 (2005) (House Report); see H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 360, 109th Cong., 1st Sess. 703 (2005).

As is pertinent here, the NDAA established child rape as a separate criminal offense under Article 120 defined as either (1) any sexual act with a child under the age of 12 or (2) a sexual act with a child aged 12 to 15 committed by using force; causing grievous bodily harm; threatening death, grievous bodily harm, or kidnaping; rendering the child unconscious; or administering a drug, intoxicant, or similar substance that impairs the victim's ability to appraise or control his or her conduct. NDAA § 552(a)(1), 119 Stat. 3257, 3261 (10 U.S.C. 920(b) and (t)(9)). Congress further directed that, "based on the degree of the offense" (House Report 332) and until the President determines otherwise, the maximum pen alty that courts-martial may impose for child rape is death. See NDAA § 552(b)(1), 119 Stat. 3263.

In 2007, the President issued an executive order con curring with the judgment of Congress that death is the appropriate maximum penalty for child rape. See Exec. Order No. 13,447, § 3(d), 3 C.F.R. 278 (2008) (amending Manual for Courts-Martial, Pt. IV ¶ 45.f.(1)).


The Court's decision is grounded on a materially er roneous understanding of federal law. Contrary to statements in the opinion, both Congress and the Presi dent have recently determined that a maximum sentence of death is appropriate and proportionate for cases in volving the extraordinarily grave crime of child rape. That determination by two co-equal Branches of the National Government not only is entitled to great weight, it also underscores the emerging "national con sensus" supporting-not opposing-capital punishment in cases of child rape. This Court, moreover, has never found the absence of a "national consensus" that capital punishment was appropriate for a particular offense or category of offenders where the Congress of Represen tatives from all 50 States had affirmatively authorized such punishment, nor has it substituted its own "inde pendent judgment" for a national consensus that did exist in favor of capital punishment for a particular of fense or offender. Rehearing is warranted to allow the Court to correct the material error in its opinion, recon sider this case in light of the recent judgments of the Nation's political Branches, and ensure that a decision of exceptional constitutional, moral, and practical conse quence is not tainted by a significant omission in the Court's decisionmaking process.

A. Recent Judgments Of The Political Branches Reflect An Emerging National Consensus Supporting Capital Pun ishment In Cases Of Child Rape

1. In Roper, Atkins, Enmund, and Coker, the Court held the death penalty unconstitutional under circum stances that were consistent with congressional enact ments reflecting the Nation's moral judgment at the time. In Roper and Atkins, the Court found a national consensus against applying the death penalty to juvenile and mentally retarded defendants where Congress pro hibited federal death sentences for such defendants. See Roper, 543 U.S. at 567 (citing 18 U.S.C. 3591); Atkins, 536 U.S. at 314 & n.10 (citing 18 U.S.C. 3596(c) and 21 U.S.C. 848(l)). Enmund's Eighth Amendment holding was similarly supported by a federal statute that did "not permit a defendant such as Enmund to be put to death." See Enmund, 458 U.S. at 791 & n.10 (citing 49 U.S.C. 1473(c)(6) (1976) (repealed 1994)). And, in Coker, the plurality's conclusion that the non-fatal rape of an adult woman could not constitutionally> be punished with death was consistent with Congress's silence on the subject at that time. See Coker, 433 U.S. at 593-596.2 The Court has never held the death penalty unconstitu tional under its "national consensus" analysis where Congress has authorized death for the offense at issue.

The Court's decision here significantly departs from those prior rulings by contradicting the considered judg ments of Congress and the President that child rape may be punished appropriately as a capital offense. At a minimum, those judgments are entitled to consider able weight in assessing whether a national consensus against capital punishment exists in this context. In deed, Congress acts through the representatives of all 50 States and, therefore, a "statute enacted by Congress expresses the will of the people of the United States." United States v. Lee Yen Tai, 185 U.S. 213, 222 (1902). The fact that Congress recently enacted legislation au thorizing capital punishment for child rape by an over whelming 374-to-41 vote in the House, see 151 Cong. Rec. H12,242 (Dec. 18, 2005), and a voice vote in the Senate, id. at S14,275 (Dec. 22, 2005), therefore under scores, if not independently expresses, a current societal judgment that such punishment can be graduated and proportionate to the offense of child rape.

Moreover, unlike determinations of state legisla tures, this "Court accords 'great weight to the decisions of Congress'" in constitutional contexts because "Con gress is a coequal branch of Government whose Mem bers take the same oath [as the Court] to uphold the Constitution of the United States." Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57, 64 (1981) (citation omitted). The Court ac cords such deference even where a "considered decision of the Congress and the President" "implicate[s] funda mental constitutional rights." Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 472-473 (1980). Thus, there is (to say the least) a strong presumption that the recent determina tion by Congress and the President that capital punish ment is an appropriate sanction for child rape accurately reflects the views of our society.

2. Those recent federal pronouncements also amplify a broader trend of recognizing the incalculable individ ual and societal harms inflicted by the sexual abuse of children. Over the last 14 years, Congress has repeat edly addressed the serious problem of sexual abuse of young children. As the dissenting opinion explains (at 9- 11), Congress enacted the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Regis tration Act, 42 U.S.C. 14071 (2000 & Supp. V 2005), in 1994 in the face of increasing reports of child sexual abuse and growing public sensitivity to the grave nature of such offenses. Congress has subsequently revisited the problem of sexual abuse of young children in numer ous statutes, including several that increase punish ments for federal sex crimes. In 1996, for instance, Con gress required a mandatory life sentence for defendants convicted of a sexual act with a child younger than 12 in federal enclaves or certain federal facilities if the defen dant previously was convicted for a similar offense and, in 2006, Congress added a mandatory minimum of 30- years imprisonment for first-time offenders. 18 U.S.C. 2241(c). Congress similarly revised the penalties for abusive sexual contact in 1998 to double the maximum term of imprisonment whenever the victim is a child younger than 12. 18 U.S.C. 2244(c).

Congress's express authorization of the death pen alty for child rape in the NDAA reflects a natural pro gression in Congress's efforts to stem the tide of child sexual abuse. Those efforts find close parallels in state legislation over the last 13 years that mark a "change towards making child rape a capital offense." See slip op. 21; see also dissenting op. 1-13 (Alito, J., dissenting) (explaining trend towards capital punishment for child rapists). And they are reflected by the President's own determination in 2007, by executive order, that the death penalty is appropriate for child rape.

Because the Court's decision in this case did not ac count for the recent federal pronouncements supporting the authorization of the death penalty for child rape, rehearing is warranted to reconsider the Court's deter mination that there is a national consensus against the imposition of the death penalty for child rape.

B. The Court's Own Independent Judgment May Be Af fected By Its Consideration Of Recent Actions By Con gress And The President.

In invalidating the Louisiana law at issue, the Court also invoked its "own independent judgment" in discern ing the "[e]volving standards of decency" that the Court has looked to in construing the Eighth Amendment. Slip op. 10, 23-25. Setting aside whether the Eighth Amend ment contemplates invalidation of capital punishment when objective indications of societal views reveal that the country regards that punishment as appropriate for a particular offense, the Court has not had occasion to illuminate the extent to which these two inquiries are interdependent. Nor has the Court ever exercised its "independent judgment" in the line of cases in which it has applied this two-step analysis to bar the imposition of the death penalty for a particular offense or offender in the face of a national consensus supporting it.

At the least, the Court's exercise of its own judgment in this case presumably would be affected by the Court's consideration of the recent federal pronouncements dis cussed above. Not only are the judgments of co-equal Branches entitled to due regard by this Court, Coker itself indicates that the Court's "Eighth Amendment judgments should not be, or appear to be, merely the subjective views of individual Justices" and that the Court's jurisprudence in this area should be informed "to the maximum possible extent" by objective measures of "public attitudes concerning a particular sentence." 433 U.S. at 592. That cautious approach is particularly appropriate here, where the Court's application of inde pendent judgment appears to have been governed in significant part by policy considerations regarding the "consequences of making child rape a capital offense." Slip op. 30-35. Where, as here (and in contrast to Roper, Atkins, and Enmund), the National Legislature and Executive have determined that capital punishment is an appropriate sentence for a crime, the Court should be particularly hesitant in making a contrary determination based on its assessment of competing policy consider ations rejected by the political Branches.

Rehearing is warranted to permit the Court to ad dress whether its decision should be tailored more nar rowly in light of the newly presented and important evi dence that national representatives of the people of the United States do not share the Court's categorical view that the death penalty is not appropriate in the case of child rape, no matter how heinous the particular offense. At a minimum, before such a categorical judgment is pronounced (if it is to be pronounced at all), the contrary views of the Nation's Legislative and Executive Branches should be heard and fully considered following rehearing.3

Even if the Court were to conclude that its initial decision was correct following reconsideration of this case in light of the recent federal pronouncements dis cussed above, rehearing would still be warranted to per mit the Court to correct the unnecessarily overbroad implications of the decision and to ensure that the Court's misunderstanding of federal law did not influ ence the judgment that this Court reached. Rehearing would thus enhance the integrity of the Court's decisionmaking process on a matter of exceptional im portance. The rape of a child is an offense of unspeak able depravity, resulting in incalculable individual and societal harm. Likewise, for many Americans, the avail ability of capital punishment for a particular offense is a matter of profound moral concern. Rehearing is there fore warranted in the extraordinary circumstances of this case.

* * * * *

For the foregoing reasons, the petition for rehearing should be granted.

Respectfully submitted.

GREGORY G. GARRE Acting Solicitor General MATTHEW W. FRIEDRICH Acting Assistant Attorney General MICHAEL R. DREEBEN Deputy Solicitor General ANTHONY A. YANG Assistant to the Solicitor General PATTY MERKAMP STEMLER Attorney

DANIEL J. DELL'ORTO Acting General Counsel ROBERT E. REED Associate Deputy General Counsel Department of Defense

JULY 2008

1 Before the 2006 amendments, Article 120 of the UCMJ defined the military offense of rape without regard to the victim's age and autho rized death as the maximum punishment. 10 U.S.C. 920(a); see also 50 U.S.C. 714(a) (Supp. IV 1950). In 1984, the President promulgated capital sentencing factors under Rule for Courts-Martial 1004. See Loving v. United States, 517 U.S. 748, 754 (1996). Under that rule, a capital sentence could have been imposed for rape if the members of the court-martial unanimously found that, among other things, the victim was younger than 12. Rule for Courts-Martial 1004(c)(9). Congress subsequently requested that the Secretary of Defense review the UCMJ to "determin[e] what changes are required to improve the ability of the military justice system to address issues relating to sexual assault" and report his recommendations. Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, Pub. L. No. 108-375, § 571(a), 118 Stat. 1920. After extensive study, the Defense Depart ment recommended that Congress amend Article 120 to eliminate the absence of consent as an element of rape and provided Congress with a draft of complementary, non-statutory changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial that clarified that rape would continue to be a capital offense where the victim was younger than 12. See Dep't of Defense, Proposed Amendments to the Uniform Code of Military Justice 16-17, 21 (Apr. 7, 2005) .

2 In Coker, Congress was silent on the pertinent question because it had not affirmatively authorized the death penalty for rape in the wake of this Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), which "invalidated most of the capital punishment statutes in this country, including the rape statutes." Coker, 433 U.S. at 593 (plurality opinion); see id. at 595-596 (concluding that "Georgia is the sole jurisdiction in the United States at the present time" authorizing capital punishment for the rape of an "adult woman").

3 The categorical nature of the Court's decision is particularly prob lematic. For example, while the Court's ruling that the imposition of the death penalty for child rape violates the Eighth Amendment does not admit to any exception, the Court has yet to resolve whether the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punish ments applies differently in military capital cases. See, e.g., Loving, 517 U.S. at 755 (assuming without deciding that "Furman applies to this case"); Schick v. Reed, 419 U.S. 256, 260 (1974) (finding it "unnecessary to reach" the question). Nevertheless, the Court's decision by its terms purports to rule out capital punishment for the offense of child rape across-the-board and thus casts grave doubt on the constitutionality of the NDAA provision discussed above.

Updated October 21, 2014