Cruel and unusual punishment is a platitude found in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Amendment, like the rest of the Bill of Rights, was written to ensure that the new American nation would not suffer from the excesses of the former English overlords, such as drawing-and-quartering, death by torture (no matter how entertaining it was to contemplate it being done to Mel Gibson in Braveheart), or repeats of Mr. Bean.
That the Founding Founders in the execution-happy colonies would have written an amendment to ban executions entirely is so unthinkable that it has taken the finest minds in the United States to explain why it means exactly this.
Most uses of the Eighth Amendment in the U.S. court system therefore concern executions, the exception being the rare lawsuit to demand premium cable channels on prison televisions.
In fact, no prisoner has ever been drawn-and-quartered or tortured in the United States at all. And slavery, the Alternative Minimum Tax, and Instant Replay in Major League Baseball are technically not even "punishments."
The Supreme Court, then, has had the task of understanding what the Founders could have meant by writing an Amendment that, on the surface, seems meaningless. In the American renaissance called the Great Society, it first occurred to the Court that the death penalty itself could be "cruel and unusual punishment."
As in most things, the Court advanced this "jurisprudence" gradually, first saving from execution only:
- The insane, who obviously did not know what they were doing
- Premeditated murders, because the nation needs their expertise and attention to detail in National Economic Planning
- Child killers, because we need to give them a chance to grow up
- Spouse killers, because we need to give them a chance to grow old
- Elderly killers, because sometimes writing kids out of the will just doesn't work
- African Americans, because we don't execute a fair share of white folks and we wouldn't want blacks to take this the wrong way
- Authors of gun massacres, because this is the fault of gun shows, SUVs, and rodeos.
Yesterday's Featured Article -
April 27: Eat a Live Piglet Day (Schenectady, New York; Griffin, Georgia)
- 1124 - King David the Lastnameless takes the throne of Scotland
- 1294 - Scotland calls Franch a bunch of pussies. Angry grumbling ensues.
- 1368 - The Big Bad Wolf is found guilty of vandalism and mouth robbery, and is sentenced to 30 hours of social work.
- 1509 - Pope Julius II places the Italian state of Venice under interdict. The interdict arose from finding the state warm and moist.
- 1521 - Magellan arrives in the Philippines. The locals invite him in for dinner.
- 1555 - You are born, but die of cholera by age eight. You don't remember this previous life because you were born a moron.
- 1945 - USA and USSR meet for the first time in Germany, starting a love affair to last several decades.
- 1949 - Texas becomes the first US State to outlaw Cheese, following the discovery of a Soviet covert chedder ring operating in Houston.
- 1966 - NASA scientists propose using Dusty Springfield's 11-mile tall bouffant to get to the moon.
- 1981 - I got laid!
- 1984 - The Libyan Embassy in London is taken hostage by a VW campervan, ending in the shooting of Dr Emmett Brown.