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DeSantis steps closer to trashing Supreme Court precedent on death penalty

The Florida governor could be banking, perhaps correctly, on the court's pro-capital punishment supermajority being ready to reverse another ruling.


Whatever their differences, possible 2024 GOP rivals Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump have both displayed a “law and order” thirst for capital punishment. DeSantis just took his latest step to crank up the death machine by signing a Florida bill that permits executing people convicted of raping children.

One problem with the legislation, which takes effect Oct. 1, is that it flies in the face of a 2008 Supreme Court precedent barring the death penalty for such non-homicide crimes.

But perhaps that won’t be a problem at all.

As I noted when the Florida bill was pushed earlier this year, this isn’t the same Supreme Court that, by a 5-4 margin, decided the 2008 case, Kennedy v. Louisiana:

Since 2008 ... the court has undergone a revolution in its membership. For one thing, the author of that bare majority ruling, former swing justice Anthony Kennedy, has been replaced by the more-conservative Brett Kavanaugh. Another member of the majority, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has been replaced by the much more conservative Amy Coney Barrett.

Indeed, none of the justices in that 2008 majority are still on the court, and three of the four dissenters are Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. The fourth dissenter was Antonin Scalia, who was replaced by apparent capital punishment enthusiast Neil Gorsuch. Add in Kavanaugh and Barrett, and there’s a pro-capital punishment supermajority on this court.

The Florida governor said in a statement that he’s “prepared to take this law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.” If he does, the court reshaped by the GOP and Trump could be waiting with open arms.

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