Last week, the Supreme Court held, 7 to 2, that Kentucky's method of lethal injection remains a constitutional way of executing the rapist of a child. Justice John Paul Stevens concurred.
In his opinion, however, Stevens exhilarated liberals by coming out of the closet as a born-again abolitionist of capital punishment.
Said his honor, it is time to reconsider the "justification for the death penalty itself." Court decisions and state actions that justify it are but "the product of habit and inattention rather than an acceptable and deliberative process."
Enlightened men and women, the justice is saying, will abolish capital punishment as a barbaric relic of a blessedly bygone era.
For his defection to the abolitionist camp, the 88-year-old justice was rewarded with her patented deep massage by Linda Greenhouse, the veteran -- and after 30 years retiring -- Supreme Court reporter of The New York Times:
"When Justice John Paul Stevens intervened in a Supreme Court argument on Wednesday to score a few points off the lawyer who was defending the death penalty for the rape of a child, the courtroom audience saw a master strategist at work, fully in command of the flow of the argument and the smallest details of the case. For those accustomed to watching Justice Stevens, it was a familiar sight."
For rolling over on its back, the dog gets its tummy scratched.
To Greenhouse, Stevens' flip on capital punishment, following his flip to favor affirmative action, represents the "culmination of a remarkable journey for a Republican antitrust lawyer."
It sure does. But had Stevens moved from left to right, rather than the reverse, one imagines Greenhouse's enthusiasm for the "master strategist" would have been well contained.
What we see here is a textbook example of what U.S. Judge Laurence Silberman calls "The Greenhouse Effect."
This is the effect on aging and weak-minded Republican justices, like Harry Blackmun, David Souter, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor and John Paul Stevens, of the lure of fawning publicity, if they will but recant their convictions and embrace the agenda of the left.
The Faustian bargain these justices are offered is favorable media, comparisons to great liberal jurists of yesterday like Louis Brandeis and Hugo Black, and repeated references to how they have "evolved," and "grown," and are being accorded a strange "new respect."
When they accept such media favors, these justices, nominated by Republican presidents to restore constitutionalism to the court, begin to receive ovations at establishment dinners and turn up on the most desirable party lists. Where once they were the "clones of Scalia," suddenly, they are jurists of "independent thought."