J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Yesterday, while most of Washington DC was closed due to the snow storm, the Supreme Court of the United States convened to hear oral arguments in the case of Hall v. Florida. NCADP’s Executive Director, Diann Rust-Tierney, summarized the issue before the court in her recent blog about the case:
The question presented is narrow:
Whether Florida’s statutory scheme for identifying defendants with “mental retardation," as interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court, violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against executing people with intellectual disabilities as articulated inAtkins?
As a note of reference “intellectual disabilities,” adopted since the Court ruled in Atkins, is the preferred clinical term over “mental retardation.”
At stake is whether Florida is obliged to honor the limits imposed by the eighth amendment and refrain from executing a man who falls within the class of people for whom the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. This inquiry goes to the heart of the deal struck inGregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976). In Gregg the Supreme Court held that the death penalty could be administered in a manner consistent with the Constitution. The Court’s ruling was premised on the reasonable expectation that states will work within the framework created by the Court as the final arbiter of constitutional standards for the practice. This premise cannot hold, however, if states continuously seek to circumvent these standards by erecting barriers to the recognition of constitutional rights.
Read her analysis in its entirety here.
The New York Times editorialized about the case writing:
As the death penalty becomes rarer and more concentrated in a few parts of the country, the states that continue to employ it are resorting to more desperate schemes to kill people…
Florida’s purpose, in other words, is not to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, but to execute its death-row inmates whether or not they are intellectually disabled. The court rejected that practice once. It should do so again, unequivocally, for those states that missed the message the first time.
You can find the full transcript of the oral arguments here.