Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

The Death Penalty System is Lawless: Texas to Defy the Law (Again)

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Paul Campos notes the most recent injustice in our death penalty system—the state of Texas plans on executing a man with the IQ of child (for a crime he may well not have even been present for) despite the Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) that the Eighth Amendment bars executions for defendants with “mental retardation.” Read the details if you can stomach it, but Campos sums up the situation well.

Wilson is a poster child – in every sense – for the savage arbitrariness of the death penalty as it is employed by the state of Texas. Poor, black, with the mental age of a six-year-old, he was sentenced to death for his ambiguous role in a drug-trade murder, when literally every day in America people are given far lighter sentences for more heinous crimes.

The death penalty system is lawless – if a state were forced to respect the law and conform with due process, it would collapse.  That this is done in the name of law and order is one of the more patently false claims in politics, which is saying something.  The Venn diagram showing those who vigorously support the death penalty and those who take constitutional rights and avoiding executing the innocent seriously does not intersect.  Killing someone is more important than preventing future crimes, our constitutional system, or playing fair.  It’s worth asking what purposes this serves, because it sure isn’t justice. And no, the fact that our discourse is so lopsided on this issue cannot be blamed on regular people, who are closely divided.  This punitiveness is driven by our failing elites.

Also, remember that 33 states and the federal government still have the death penalty.  It is not isolated to places like Texas, but is common in places where progressives have more leverage. And it will never end there until it’s ended in places like Maryland and California (on the latter see Yes on 34).

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Written by David Kaib

August 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Daniel had a fantastic post explaining the mechanisms to evade any accountability to the the state politicians in the Texas death penalty system:

    http://autonomyforall.blogspot.com/2011/09/even-rick-perrys-record-on-capital.html

    The Big Hurt

    August 3, 2012 at 1:03 am

    • That is a great piece by Daniel. It fits with another theme here – we let abstract notions such as leadership (one person at the top in charge) get in the way of noticing the ways that institutional structures matter–here not just informally but formally as well.

      David Kaib

      August 3, 2012 at 12:09 pm


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