updated 5/24/2005 1:33:20 AM ET 2005-05-24T05:33:20

Allowing U.S. courts to consider the views of other judges — including international jurists — while making a decision is a responsible practice, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said during a speech Monday.

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His comments related to a March decision by the Supreme Court that ruled it unconstitutional to execute juvenile killers, ending a practice in 19 states that has been roundly condemned by many of America’s closest allies.

The 5-4 decision threw out the death sentences of 72 murderers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes and barred states from seeking to execute minors for future crimes.

Juvenile offenders have been put to death in recent years in only a few other countries, including Iran, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia. Justice Anthony Kennedy cited international opposition to the practice.

Three of Stevens’ fellow justices — Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — have said foreign law has no relevance. Scalia has been increasingly critical of the practice in recent months, pointing to decisions in recent years to decriminalize gay sex and ban the execution of the mentally retarded.

The U.S. judiciary does not place too much importance on international opinion rather than obeying the provision that the Constitution and congressional acts combine to create “the supreme law of the land,” Stevens said.

There is a vast difference between U.S. justices considering meaningful views of scholars and judges before reaching a conclusion and allowing international opinion to control the interpretation of U.S. laws, Stevens said at a meeting of the 7th Circuit Bar Association and Judicial Conference of the Seventh Circuit.

“We should not be impeached for the former,” he said. “And we are not guilty of the latter.”

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