Leave it to SCOTUS to rule about capital punishment cases, but not rule about capital punishment…
The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has always ruled around the edges on cases that dealt with capital punishment. For many groups – especially those that want to repeal capital punishment from the US court system – they have always hoped SCOTUS would tackle the constitutionality of the matter head on. But based on the two death row cases SCOTUS announced they would be looking into on Monday, those groups look like they’ll have to wait.
SCOTUS on Monday announced that it would be hearing two death row cases, interestingly enough both from Texas, the US state with the third most death row inmates only trailing California (1) and Florida (2). While both cases deal with capital punishment, the cases specifically aren’t being judged on that merit.
In Moore v Texas, SCOTUS looks into the question of whether an intellectually disabled individual has the mental capacity to be put on death row. This is essentially challenging the 2002 case in Atkins v Virginia where SCOTUS ruled that “cruel and unusual punishments” are prohibited on mentally disabled individuals due to the Eighth Amendment (prohibiting the federal government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment on individuals). Moore says that statute applies here.
The other case is Buck v Stephens, in which Duane Buck was sentenced to death row after an “expert” told the court he was more dangerous in the future due to him essentially being black…
Yeah… we thought that was kind of fucked up too.
Anyway, Buck claims that the central idea of why he was put to death row was because the expert had said he was more likely to be dangerous due to his ethnicity, thus the case should be thrown out because his defense attorney had created an environment where his race would be a factor in the verdict. Basically, Buck claims his right to a fair trial was denied because of this. SCOTUS will see if his claim is legitimate in this situation.
As said before, neither case directly challenges the death penalty which continues the trend of SCOTUS ruling on cases the deals with the fringes of the controversial matter. So if you’re one of those people that hope SCOTUS would directly deal with the constitutionality of capital punishment, you’re probably going to wait. SCOTUS doesn’t look to be dealing with anything that significant until they have a full nine person bench once again. And considering Congress doesn’t look like they’ll be nominating anyone in the near future, opponents of capital punishment may want get comfortable.
It’s going to be a long wait.
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