Samuel Alito So Mad The Court Just Made It A Tiny Bit Harder To Excute The Mentally Disabled
Woo! Time to Supreme Court Celebrate! Apparently we've set the bar so low for this particular Court that we are now counting as a victory for the good guys the most minor of things, like the fact that the court today announced that they will make it a wee bit harder to execute someone who is on the cusp of an intellectual disability diagnosis. We're number one! We're number one!
Is there a whiny dissent from Samuel Alito? Awww hell yeah.
But wait, you say! Didn't the Supreme Court already prohibit the execution of the intellectually disabled back in 2002, noting that it was cruel and unusual punishment to do so? Why yes it did, star pupil, but that case really then just led to a bunch of states trying real hard to walk right up to that line and to define "not intellectually disabled" as expansively as possible, because you want to be able to execute the most people, amirite??
The case the court decided today, Hall v. Florida, involved a horrific crime. Let's just get that out there and forestall any "if you just talked about what he did, then you would see why it is OK for the state to kill him" arguments. We are firmly on Team Never OK To Kill, so the particular horribleness that Freddie Lee Hall inflicted on other human beings (the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 21-year-old woman followed by the murder of a sheriff's deputy) is awful and we would likely prefer that Mr. Hall never again see the light of day. However, even if we read the distressing details of his crime over and over again, we still don't want to kill him.
Now that we've got that out of the way, let's chat about the matter at hand. Florida law, that glorious creature of irrationality, requires that a defendant prove that he or she has an IQ of 70 or under before they can go on to present further evidence of their intellectual disability. So, only after they hit the magic 70 can a defendant bring in evidence showing that they have difficulties in adaptive functioning, which essentially means that they can show that they have failed to adapt to their environment because of the disability. Hall scored a 71 on the IQ test, which meant that under Florida law, he wasn't even allowed to bring in any evidence about his inability to function in the world and his horrific upbringing. Let's check out some of that forbidden material, shall we?
School records indicated that his teachers identified him on numerous occasions as “[m]entally retarded.” Hall had been prosecuted for a different, earlier crime. His lawyer in that matter later testified that the lawyer “[c]ouldn’t really understand anything [Hall] said.” And, with respect to the murder trial given him in this case, Hall’s counsel recalled that Hall could not assist in his own defense because he had “‘a mental . . . level much lower than his age,’” at best comparable to the lawyer’s 4-year-old daughter. A number of medical clinicians testified that, in their professional opinion, Hall was “significantly retarded” [...]
Hall’s upbringing appeared to make his deficits in adaptive functioning all the more severe. Hall was raised — in the words of the sentencing judge — “under the most horrible family circumstances imaginable.” -[...] Hall was “[c]onstantly beaten because he was ‘slow’ or because he made simple mistakes.” His mother “would strap [Hall] to his bed at night, with a rope thrown over a rafter. In the morning, she would awaken Hall by hoisting him up and whipping him with a belt, rope, or cord.” Ibid. Hall was beaten “ten or fifteen times a week sometimes.” His mother tied him “in a ‘croaker’ sack, swung it over a fire, and beat him,” “buried him in the sand up to his neck to ‘strengthen his legs,’” and “held a gun on Hall . . . while she poked [him] with sticks.”
Jesus Christ. That is fucking awful, and it is impossible to come away from reading that and think that Hall would be a criminal mastermind or even a functioning human being, but guess what? You would never get to hear about that if you were sitting on the jury to decide to put Hall to death, because Hall scored a 71 instead of a 70 on an IQ test.
Couple big problems there, says the majority opinion. First, IQ tests generally come with a standard deviation, so that if your score is 71, it's actually more that your score is in a range of 66-76. Next, the medical profession doesn't just diagnose people by saying LOW IQ HAHAHA. They also too look at things like adaptive functioning. So, says Justice Kennedy, preening in the spotlight of yet another 5-4 decision, it's unconstitutional to set a strict cutoff of 70 as the threshold at which a defendant is allowed to bring in other material, and that to give full meaning to the protections of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, you have to give the defendant more of a shot to talk about his or her disability.
Let's be very very clear what we're arguing about here. We're not arguing about whether Hall can be executed. That's still on the table. We haven't definitively decided that Hall is intellectually disabled. That's still up in the air too. All this case was about was whether Hall could be allowed the small courtesy of bringing in additional information about his intellectual disability. The court could toss some of the evidence! The jury could go all IDGAF and sentence him anyway! Hall doesn't walk away from this tralalalalaing. He just walks away from it with the right to have this information get to the jury.
Not so fast says Samuel Alito, who is really making a name for himself with some terrible ideas about how the Eighth Amendment really means that you've just got to kill kill kill. Here, Alito has a maximum bit of sad because the majority opinion relies upon some professional medical organizations, like the American Psychological Association, and that is totally unfair because state legislatures are way better at deciding who should get killed. We can't wait for Alito to decide things that involve complex questions of insurance or science or anything that requires the Court to look to guidance from outside the law. He'll just be sitting there pounding the table and pouting and demanding that states be allowed to vote on whether or not gravity exists.
Just imagine looking back on your life's work and thinking "yeah, I'm pretty fucking proud of that time I fought to get a guy executed in Florida, even though he couldn't read or talk and had the intellectual capacity of a four-year-old. Good times, good times." We're sure that Saint Peter will greet Alito, an ostensibly strict Roman Catholic, with open arms even though the church has made it pretty clear that they oppose the death penalty because of how it is ACTUAL KILLING OF A HUMAN BEING. Stand proud, Sammy Boy.