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Beginning in 2005, the Supreme Court had concluded in a series of cases that minors should be treated differently from adults, in part because of minors’ lack of maturity. That year, the court eliminated the death penalty for juveniles. Five years later, it later barred life-without-parole sentences for juveniles except in cases of murder. In 2012 and 2016 the court again sided with minors. The court said life-without-parole sentences should only be given to “the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.”
Since that time, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose votes were key to those decisions, have been replaced by more conservative justices. Kavanaugh, the author of Thursday’s majority opinion and a former clerk to Kennedy, replaced him on the court. Kennedy had been the author of the decisions favoring juveniles in 2005, 2010 and 2016.
In a statement, Kymberlee Stapleton of the California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation called the decision a “victory for the families of victims murdered by juveniles.”
But Heather Renwick, the legal director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, said the decision was out-of-step with national trends and would “result in uneven and arbitrary imposition of life without parole on children.” She noted that the number of states that ban life without parole sentences for minors has grown significantly in the last decade. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia bar life without parole sentences for youth.
Both groups had weighed in on the case on opposite sides.