Last week the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Patrick Kennedy, a 43-year-old man from Louisiana who was sentenced to death for brutally raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter in 2003.
At issue is whether the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, applies to the death penalty in cases in which a victim's life is not taken.
The 5-4 ruling, which is becoming more common in controversial cases as the court's ideological lines become clearer, declares state and federal authorities can no longer execute people convicted of child rape.
The judgement invalidated statutes in six states that previously allowed such punishment and commuted the sentences of Kennedy and another convicted child rapist in Louisiana to life in prison.
And they should rot.
But the sheer depravity of the crime appeals to our sense of fear and anger. What constitutional grounds are involved in matters like this become secondary to our basic survival instincts. In a less civilized society, we would do far more than merely use a needle. But we are civilized.
However, that didn't stop politicians all around the country from bashing the ruling. They can't be blamed though; no one ever lost votes for wanting to execute child rapists. The issue was even enough to bring together Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, who both disagreed with it.
Considering how few convicts and states this will actually affect, the ruling carries more symbolic weight. But despite the varying opinions on the death penalty, it is comforting to know that this ruling helps it be applied more responsibly.
But statements like that aren't worth a lot of votes. Perhaps next time, lawmakers could've taken their time and adopted a new talking point: The ruling was responsible and allows these despicable people to enter the prison system as child predators, a punishment that will surely fit the heinous crimes they committed, rather than be granted a quick death.