The Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday upholding a Mississippi man’s life sentence without parole for a murder committed when he was a teenager and making it easier for judges to sentence juveniles to life without parole. The decision comes as the result of a 6 to 3 vote, with conservative justices like Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who authored the dissent, called the decision “an abrupt break from precedent,” and noted that 70 percent of juveniles sentenced to die in prison are people of color.
The case before the court concerned the 2005 conviction of Brett Jones, who killed his grandfather when he was 15 and was sentenced to life without parole. He argued that a judge never found him “permanently incorrigible,” i.e. beyond rehabilitation, and said such a finding was required for sentencing a minor to life, an argument the court rejected. Over the last two decades, the Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings that have disallowed or discouraged stringent punishment of minors, often rooted in the research that juvenile brains are not fully developed. Thursday’s ruling upholding, however, disrupted that trend.