Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Never Bought That Bandwagon, Judicial judgment for Juvenile Justice, and Bear 3

By: Michael Akerman

A bit of personal-life info., not because I want to, but as set-up for the post:

Tomorrow, I've got this Eagle Banquet thing (to celebrate the Eagle Scout rank I earned about a year ago). Of course, I was living in Greensboro at the time I earned Eagle, so that's where the ceremony will be (Old North State Council, to be precise).

My dad, being the Scout Executive of the Occoneechee Council (that's Raleigh), goes to a lot of these things. Indeed, he went to one last week with my mom. Which brings me to my point.

My mom's been joking about the generally disheveled state of the Eagle award recipients at this event. These lackadaisical honorees have a general malaise about them, slouched back as they shuffle forward, generally disinterested in their surroundings, recognitions, or personal hygiene. These boys, all receiving the highest honor of a trusted institution, all trained in the morals and skills necessary for a successful life, seemed to view this event as a plague to be avoided.

This is, I should point out, by no means an issue limited to the Scouts. Rather, this slipshod attitude toward life seems nearly epidemic in my generation. Maybe I have been misinformed, but I rarely see photos of children prior to the 60s receiving prestigious awards with anything less than bursting pride on their faces.

It occurs to me that this may be due to the general disrespect of authority in my generation (as well as the generation immediately previous). My peers seem to bear the foolish outlook that their parents, teachers, grandparents, and any other person who is not wearing their pants at the time has no idea how the world works: their opinions and experiences are not applicable to them, no sir. Sure, drug use, rampant sex, and idiotic motoring practices have ruined countless lives over the years, but that has nothing to do with my generation, because, well... it just doesn't, okay?

I think these Scouts see their award as inconsequential. Even though dozens of people have expressed the monumental nature of this, though they have heard dozens of stories about people who felt their life was changed by either getting or not getting this, these Scouts decide that the Eagle rank is simply an obstacle that they removed to stop getting flack from their parents.

I've never quite understood this, frankly. I can't remember a time when I haven't taken the lessons of experience or age, song or story, remembrance or philosophy to heart and modified myself due to them. I don't mean to toot my own horn (I only due that in my room at night, with the lights off), but I'm going to be frank: I have a record of being successful at most all of the important things in life: academics, philosophy, morality, et al. I have no doubt that this is because I take the lessons around me to heart

So I exhort my peers, and those younger than me, to learn from others. For God's sake, listen to your elders; consider their experiences; avoid things that routinely have caused pain to others; use the abundant resources of adults to follow the right path in your own life. And please, take pride when you achieve something great. People may call you a fool for being proud, but those are the true fools. It is a dangerous world where pride falls prey to sensitivity.

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court that youngsters can't be killed off is causing me more than a bit of academic discomfort. Don't get me wrong: the ruling was philosophically correct. However, it falls far outside the bounds of what power a judicial system is allowed to execute.

The majority opinion in Roper v. Simmons (pdf) declared that it was against the 8th amendment limitation against cruel and unusual punishment to execute criminals who were minors when they committed murder. However, they based this decision (which is the reverse of a decision only 16 years old) on the "changing opinions" toward this issue. The barometer for these opinions: the existence of several laws in several states and several countries barring this practice.

Besides the pragmatic fact that these states and countries have very low execution rates anyways (California, et al. Banning something uncommon is not difficult), I have doubts about the constitutionality of the decision itself. Consider: the Supreme Courts ultimate duty is to be above popular opinion (hence, appointments, rather than elections) to determine the constitutionality of laws and statutes. The implication is that popular opinion should not be used as a yardstick for constitutionality.

I firmly believe this to be correct. Opinion is fickle. The Constitution, while flexible, cannot turn as the tides if we hope to maintain a healthy republic. Therein lies the problem: Roper v. Simmons sets a dangerous precedent for judicial activism.

Let me give an example especially for liberals: we all recall our schooling on slavery, institutionalized segregation, and the Supreme Court decisions that ended both. Consider Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas had Roper v. Simmons taken place prior to the decision. Under the faulty logic of this ruling, because several states already allowed the reprehensible practice of governmental segregation, it should be allowed.

This is, of course, part of a growing trend of activist judges in the past decades. Let legislation be left to the legislators.

Laying aside constitutional arguments, I think this decision will open a new can of worms. How will this decision apply to minors tried "as adults," or granted legal consideration as an adult? I predict we will see court cases about this, and more minors tried as adults, which is, frankly, an all too common occurrence already. If they are minors, they cannot be adults. If they are not considered adults by the societal standard (18 years old, here), then they must be minors.

Finally, I present "The Bear of Wolf Creek, Installment 3" (which is still not the last installment. By the way, I'm going to post the entire, unbroken story when I finish it).

Installment 2

Installment 1

"Now that bear didn' even make as if it were goin' to attack Big Sue. As fate may be, it just sat down about as far from Sue as you are from me, and it just stared her down, right in the eye. Now, normally, Sue would of jumped at the chance to take a bear down: that's a lot of meat to eat, and plenty of hide an' stuff to trade. But, asit were, Big Sue didn' have her gun nearby. She didn' figger when she left her camp that she'd be facin' down a bear.

"She decided that that bear didn' pose her no harm, though, so she walked, nice and slow, on up to get a better look. Right then, she decided that bear was special. As she came up to that big bear's face, she could see settin' on that bear's black back were white markings lookin' just like compass directions!"

"So it's a bear that bears bearings?" grinned Likkle Pete. Ol' Pete grinned in spite of himself.

"Watch your tongue, boy," he said. "As I was sayin', that bear done had a compass on it's back, and Sue knew that that bear was a safe critter to be aroun'. As she put her hand on that bear's head, the bear turned its eyes on up to look at her. Then, the bear done nudged Big Sue an' walked back to the woods.

"Now Sue didn' know where the bear was goin', but when it looked at her, moved for'ard, stopped, and looked at her again, she figgered it wanted her to follow. So she tailed that bear, bein' led deep in the woods. Sue started to hear likkle pained cries comin' from up ahead. The cries kept gettin' louder until she done come up on a clearin' in which she could see a likkle baby bear, whose foot had done gotten stuck in a bear trap!"

"Was the cub alright, Ol' Pete?" one of the older kids asked.

"Of course it was alright," said Ol' Pete. "Wouldn't be much of a story if it weren't!"