Today, in a rare 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the established standards in Texas [PDF] for determining whether a convicted killer is “mentally deficient.” Being as it’s Texas, one might think SCOTUS interpreted “Trump Voter” as overly broad.
No, of course that wasn’t the standard. But what guidelines Texas did have in place were equally ridiculous: The Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, essentially the Supreme Court of Texas, held in 2004 that adjudications of “mental retardation” (a phrase which has been replaced since) based on clinical observation were too subjective. You know, all those doctors and their fancy talk. That court decided that the standard for judgement of intellectual impairment would be defined as something “a consensus of Texas citizens” would agree on. That is to say, a person could be found disabled in literally every other state in the U.S., but if people from Texas thought they should still be executed, they wouldn’t be exempt from the death penalty.
All of this, of course, comes after SCOTUS ruled in 2002 that it was a violation of the 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment to execute anyone deemed mentally incapacitated. Moore vs. Texas was taken up last November after a convicted Texas inmate’s IQ was questioned as to whether it fit those 8th Amendment standards.
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This will surely upset the bloodthirsty Texas courts which account for more than a third of all executions in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated 41 years ago. They will no longer be legally allowed to use their own standards for disability, which provided that a person might fit all clinical and medical definitions, yet still be executed.
This isn’t just a victory for people who think the death penalty is overused — this is a victory for the handicapped, for human dignity, and for justice.