WASHINGTON — A Monday ruling making it easier for Kansas jurors to impose the death penalty may be the first sign that the Supreme Court’s two new justices will tip the balance away from tighter restrictions on capital punishment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito provided the pivotal votes in the Kansas decision. The decision supported a lower-court ruling that said when jurors believe the reasons for and against execution are equal, they must impose a death sentence. It’s a blow to death-penalty critics, who’ve said that the Constitution requires the reasons for execution to outweigh reasons against a death sentence. Previous rulings seemed to support that thinking, and the court’s most recent rulings on significant death penalty issues – raising standards for defense attorneys, outlawing executions of juveniles and the mentally retarded – had raised expectations that the Kansas case would extend that line. Roberts’ vote didn’t shift the court’s balance on death-penalty law. He replaced Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who wasn’t in the majority for most of the court’s significant death-penalty rulings. But Alito replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whose doubts about capital punishment had grown in recent years. Alito’s […]

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