The Supreme Court ruled this morning that the death penalty for people under the age of 18 when they committed their crime is “unconstitutionally cruel.”
The 5-4 decision may prompt greater discussion of the death penalty in the Virginia races for governor and delegates in November. Virginia is one of 19 states that allows for the killing of convicted murders who were juveniles when their crimes were committed.
One of the GOP candidates for governor, Jerry Kilgore, has been trying to make the death penalty an issue, as likely Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine is morally opposed to the death penalty but has promised to uphold it because it is legal.
Coincidentally, Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, has a column today that outlines Kaine’s challenge. Kilgore seems willing to wage his campaign by attacking Kaine’s faith. As a Catholic who adheres to the church’s position, Kaine opposes capital punishment.
The issue points to the contradiction of Kilgore’s attack. He wants his faith to guide his politics but criticizes Kaine when he does the same.
“Faith does shape my views on public policy, from prayer in school to other issues,” Kilgore says. “I don’t believe in gay adoption — it’s a faith issue for me.”
Kaine responds that “I think life is sacred, whether it’s abortion or the death penalty.” He immediately adds that “I’m going to take an oath and fulfill my office.” Meaning he will not delay executions or use the clemency power unless he is persuaded that a convict is actually innocent.
Kaine’s attempt to thread a politically acceptable path between his core beliefs and his proposed policies creates a huge opening for Kilgore. What does Kaine really believe, Kilgore will ask. If those are his true beliefs, shouldn’t he govern accordingly? If he’s willing to shelve his core values, what does that say about his character?
It’s a fair question, but maybe it also provides an opportunity for Kaine to attack Kilgore. If Kilgore wants to attack Kaine for his religious beliefs, Kaine can’t be criticized for painting Kilgore as intolerant of other religions, especially Catholicism.