WASHINGTON - Proponents and opponents of imposing the death penalty for rape of a child underwent intense questioning yesterday from a seemingly divided Supreme Court.
The hourlong argument came in the case of inmate Patrick Kennedy, sentenced to death for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter.
Kennedy's lawyer, Jeffrey L. Fisher, told the court the death penalty for child rape under Louisiana law violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia challenged Fisher's position that the Louisiana law is too broad and that not enough states have enacted the death penalty for child rape to justify the Supreme Court's support for it.
"The trend has been more and more states are imposing the death penalty," said Roberts.
Louisiana is among five states that have imposed the death penalty for child rape since 1995.
The case represents a potentially different direction for a court that in recent years has narrowed the death penalty, overturning it for murderers who are juveniles or are mentally retarded.
Justice Stephen Breyer expressed concern that "suddenly we will be in the business" of broadening the death penalty for crimes other than murder.
Kennedy is one of only two people, both in Louisiana, on death row for raping a child without also killing the victim.