Constitution Daily Update: Another former U.S. ally in trouble, life sentences for juveniles

The former president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is indicted in the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto; state courts may be going against the Supreme Court’s rulings in how they sentence juveniles; and a new dog for the White House.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

1. In another international situation to watch, a Pakistani court has indicted former President Pervez Musharraf in the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf was a close American ally and recently claimed he approved U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

2. The United States has temporarily cut much of its financial aid to Egypt, according to multiple news sources. The spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood also was arrested on Monday night by Egyptian security forces.

Developing Questions …

Here are some updates on new discussions about top-of-mind constitutional issues.

1. Can states effectively sentence juveniles to life without parole despite a Supreme Court ruling?

In June last year, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatorily imposing a sentence of life without parole on a juvenile, without consideration of whether the punishment is warranted in an individual case, is cruel and unusual punishment. At the time, in 29 states that imposed the penalty, there were an estimated 2,100 people serving mandatory sentences received as juveniles.

Six months later, states that had reacted to the decision had generally done so harshly. In Pennsylvania, for example, although the legislature ended mandatory imposition of life without parole on juveniles, on 15-to-17-year-olds convicted of murder it gave the option of imposing a 35 year sentence or life without parole. In Iowa, the governor offered the possibility of parole after 60 years to 38 people had been sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

But last week, courts in Iowa and Michigan interpreted the Supreme Court’s mandate differently. As the Des Moines Register reported, in one of three important cases decided about this level of punishment, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the governor’s sentencing decision was unconstitutional because the 60-year sentences were the “practical equivalent” of life without parole. Under the state court’s three rulings, the court said that anyone sentence as a juvenile to life without parole or its equivalent could ask for reconsideration of the sentence.

A federal trial judge, in a two-page order, ruled that “every person convicted of first-degree murder in the State of Michigan as a juvenile and who was sentenced to life in prison shall be eligible for parole,” meaning that the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling applied to everyone in the state who was sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile.


On this day in 1833, Benjamin Harrison was born in Ohio. He was elected president in 1888 and served one term. He’s best-known for being the grandson of President William Henry Harrison and his role in the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1889.

Closing Notes

1. There’s a new dog in the White House. The Obamas have added Sunny, Bo’s little sister, as the First Puppy.

2 Want to see where your member of Congress has been during the August recess? Roll Call has a collection of Pinterest photos showing our elected representatives with cows, constituents and a falcon.

Editor’s note: The Update is a summary of news and commentary about the Constitution and related issues, as reported around the digital world. Guest contributors and our editorial staff add to the daily update, and we welcome your suggestions (and reports) at [email protected].