There is a great, if not frightening, new piece at the New Yorker about Uncle Thomas.
The entire thing is worth a read, but this little snippet was pretty eye-opening:
His views on the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment remain so eccentric, even bizarre, that they have found little favor even on this more conservative Court. In 2008, in Baze v. Rees, a badly splintered Court upheld lethal injection as a method of execution. In the lead opinion for the Court, Roberts said that the evidence in the case showed that lethal injection was not “cruelly inhumane” and thus not a violation of the Eighth Amendment.Thomas concurred, in an opinion that reads like a treatment for a slasher movie. As always, Thomas began by asserting that the relevant constitutional provision must be “understood in light of the historical practices that led the Framers to include it in the Bill of Rights.” To that end, Thomas surveyed eighteenth-century execution methods that were, apparently, cruel and unusual even in those days. There was burning at the stake, “ ‘gibbeting,’ or hanging the condemned in an iron cage so that his body would decompose in public view, and ‘public dissection.’ ” Thomas went on, “But none of these was the worst fate a criminal could meet. That was reserved for the most dangerous and reprobate offenders—traitors.” Their punishments involved “embowelling alive, beheading, and quartering.” One death sentence in England called for the condemned to be “drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, where you shall be hanged by the necks, not till you are dead; that you be severally taken down, while yet alive, and your bowels be taken out and burnt before your faces—that your heads be then cut off, and your bodies cut in four quarters.”
The point of this grotesque catalogue was to assert that the Eighth Amendment prohibited methods of execution that were also forms of torture—nothing more. Such a standard meant that Thomas was implicitly writing out of existence decades of precedent on the Eighth Amendment. Over the years, the Court had vetoed the imposition of “hard and painful labor”; rejected disproportionate sentences for minor crimes; abolished the death penalty for rape; and outlawed life sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than murder. Under Thomas’s narrow reading of the Eighth Amendment, all these cases would be wrong; under his approach to stare decisis, all would be overturned.