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Published: Thu, March 30, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Supreme Court sides with Texas death row inmate

Supreme Court sides with Texas death row inmate

Nevertheless, Ginsburg writes, "mild levels of intellectual disability, although they may fall outside Texas citizens" consensus, nevertheless remain intellectual disabilities, and States may not execute anyone in "the entire category of [intellectually disabled] offenders'".

The Supreme Court set aside a death sentence on Tuesday for a Texas inmate who as a teenager struggled to tell time and name the days of the week, concluding he should not be executed in light of his mental disability.

At a minimum, the five-Justice majority ruled in the case of Moore v. Texas that states can not adhere to out-of-date standards developed by doctors and medical academics, but they must look for guidance in the current standards. Six years later, Moore was arrested, convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Moore took seven IQ tests over the years, with results more or less coalescing in the 70s (70 is the standard for intellectual disability), and the legal proceedings hinged on whether his range was 69-74 or 70-75. The Texas judge who established the factors compared them to the characteristics of Lennie Small, the gentle, ham-handed giant in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men".

On Tuesday, the Supremes ruled 5-3 that these standards can not be used. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

However, Roberts said, it wasn't the Supreme Court's responsibility to specify that modern clinical standards must be used. Texas' use of outdated and unscientific "medical guidance" to gauge "intellectual functioning", the majority held, violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishments". That year, justices ruled that executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional, but it left it up to the states to legally determine the condition. The test makes preventing the execution of a mentally disabled person nearly impossible.

The 5-3 decision was another in a series of high court rulings meant to eliminate differences in how states decide who is disabled - and therefore ineligible for the death penalty under a 2002 precedent - and who is not. Those factors were essentially invented by the Texas court, without any basis in either medicine or law; indeed, even Texas itself does not use them to determine whether someone is intellectually disabled in other contexts.

Ginsberg dug into the CCA's use of the Briseño Factors calling these standards "an invention of the CCA untied to any acknowledged source". At school, because of his limited ability to read and write, Moore could not keep up with lessons. Ibid. Moore's father, teachers, and peers called him "stupid" for his slow reading and speech. By the ninth grade, he failed every subject and dropped out of school. The 5-3 decision in Moore v. Texasmarks the court's latest attempt to prevent states from justifying the execution of disabled inmates using arbitrary or capricious standards.

Since the resumption of capital punishment in the United States four decades ago, Texas has carried out 542 executions, far more than any other state. This, she argues, is nonsensical an unacceptable.

Though the CCA had a duty to consider Moore's adaptive functioning because of his low IQ scores, Ginsburg added, it deviated in this analysis "from prevailing clinical standards and from the older clinical standards the court claimed to apply". "As we instructed in Hall", Ginsburg explained, "adjudications of intellectual disability should be 'informed by the views of medical experts.' That instruction can not sensibly be read to give courts leave to diminish the force of the medical community's consensus".

The majority "crafts a constitutional holding based exclusively on what it deems to be medical consensus about intellectual disability", Roberts said.

"Clinicians, not judges, should determine clinical standards", Roberts wrote for himself and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, "and judges, not clinicians, should determine the content of the Eighth Amendment". "Today's opinion confuses those roles".

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