Habeam Death Penalty Challenge

One of the most important Catholics in the world said something important this week about the death penalty in America, and it wasn’t Pope Francis. Two days after the pope told a joint session of Congress that capital punishment should be abolished, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of six Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court, speaking at a college in Tennessee, said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if his colleagues banned capital punishment. The question is far less esoteric than it was just a few months ago. The capital conversation, on the Court and elsewhere, changed dramatically in June when Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in Glossip v. Gross that it is “highly likely” that the death penalty as currently implemented violates the Eighth Amendment. This thunderbolt helps explain why death penalty abolitionists, who for years concluded there was little to gain from asking the conservative Court to revisit capital constitutionality, now say the time has come. Of course, the pope’s blessing for abolition, while not a change in church doctrine, surely can’t hurt. — Compiled by Andrew Cohen of The Marshall Project