A capital dilemma


On Friday, Oct. 12, the political science department hosted a lecture by professor Stephen Mikochik of Ave Maria School of Law entitled “A Capital Dilemma: Can a Catholic Supreme Court Justice Uphold the Death Penalty?”

Mikochik, who holds a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, spoke to a full classroom of students and professors addressing the revision to No. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which now declares the death penalty as impermissible. Due to this revision, Catholics have been questioning whether or not a Catholic Supreme Court justice can reasonably maintain the death penalty.

Mikochik proceeded with his talk under the assumption that the revision is authentic teaching and consequently binding.

In response to this issue, Mikochik described the broad latitude of factors which influence a Catholic legislator’s decisions. The legislator can take faith into account but must also consider the constitutionality of the issue. Moreover, for the legislator to make a final judgment, some independent rational grounds must exist to support the decision. Mikochik said that Supreme Court must follow its own precedent.

According to Mikochik, the eighth amendment, which limits cruel and unusual punishment, does not provide sufficient support for the case against the death penalty given that the Court in 1976 upheld the death penalty as constitutional. However, if the “progress of society and corresponding standards of decency” led to a common consensus that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment, that would allow a Supreme Court justice to consider capital punishment unconstitutional, explained Mikochik.

In his concluding comments, Mikochik said, “I think that precedent would dictate that they have to uphold it.” Mikochik followed this comment saying that this would be consistent with the revision, considering that the Catechism recognizes that capital punishment has been relied on for a long time and would require a long time to change.

Michael Sirilla, who holds a doctorate in systematic theology, followed Mikochik’s talk with a brief response.

Sirilla described the different levels of Church teaching and the corresponding responses to those teachings. He concluded that there is currently no consensus by bishops on what type of teaching the revision is, declaring that the text is ambiguous and stating that “the Church will absolutely have to clarify this.”

“I wish (the lecture) could have been longer,” said junior Catherine Boyle. “I thought (Mikochik’s) explanation was interesting. It gave me something to think about.”