Supreme Court conservatives reject restrictions on juvenile life without parole

The Supreme Court.
(Image credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

In a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Brett Jones in Jones v. Mississippi on Thursday, effectively ruling a judge need not find "permanent incorrigibility" before condemning a juvenile offender to life in prison without parole.

Declining to impose sentencing restrictions is a blow to precedent, say some analysts and the court's liberal justices, and signals both the court's abandonment of certain juvenile protections and its move toward the ideological right.

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Mississippi's Brett Jones was sentenced to life without parole after killing his grandfather at age 15. Controversially, laws in Mississippi do not require a juvenile be proven "permanently incorrigible," or incapable of moral rehabilitation, to receive such a sentence. Jones recently appealed the decision after landmark cases later deemed such sentences unconstitutional for "all but the rarest of juvenile offenders."

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Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who delivered the majority opinion, argues limitations haven't been entirely unraveled by the ruling; a judge is still required to consider a defendant's age before sentencing. However (and much to critics' dismay), it is not required that a judge ensure the juvenile defendant is incapable of rehabilitation before imposing life without parole.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a scathing dissent. "How low this Court's respect for stare decisis has sunk," she wrote. "Now, it seems, the Court is willing to overrule precedent without even acknowledging it is doing so, much less providing any special justification. It is hard to see how that approach is 'founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals,'" she added, invoking Kavanaugh's own words.

Legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern pointed directly to the court's newest justices to explain the ruling, and noted former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who Kavanaugh replaced, often criticized juvenile life sentences without parole. Brigid Kennedy

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Brigid Kennedy

Brigid is a staff writer at The Week and a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Her passions include improv comedy, David Fincher films, and breakfast food. She lives in New York.