Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida's IQ Tests For The Death Penalty

This morning the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Hall v. Florida. Florida uses a bright-line IQ threshold score of 70 to determine if an inmate is too intellectually disabled to be executed. And in 5-4 decision, written by Justice Kennedy, the Court struck down that threshold as unconstitutional.

In the 2002 case of Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that it is cruel and unusual to execute the intellectually disabled. Freddie Lee Hall, the inmate at issue in the present case, has usually scored above 70, but he shows other signs of disability. Kennedy's majority opinion is anchored in the (scientifically-supported!) conviction that an IQ score alone won't tell you enough about a person's intellectual disability to make a proper determination under that ruling:

Florida's rule disregards established medical practice in two interrelated ways. It takes an IQ score as final and conclusive evidence of a defendant's intellectual capacity, when experts in the field would consider other evidence. It also relies on a purportedly scientific measurement of the defendant's abilities, his IQ score, while refusing to recognize that the score is, on its own terms, imprecise.

Sounds reasonable, sane, and right to forbid states from using an imperfect test alone to make this all-important determination, yes?

Well, Justice Alito, writing for the dissenters (usual suspects Roberts, Thomas and Scalia), would have none of that "expert opinion" nonsense pollute the pure, democratic judgements of Florida state legislators:

Under our modern Eighth Amendment cases, what counts are our society's standards—which is to say, the standards of the American people—not the standards of professional associations, which at best represent the views of a small professional elite.

One small step for further rationality in the administration of the death penalty, a giant leap away from evidence and reality for the conservative wing of the Supreme Court. Must be Tuesday!

[Photo via AP.]

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