Supreme Court to rule in death penalty cases
Supreme Court to rule in death penalty cases

The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari [order list, PDF] Monday in two death penalty cases. In Moore v. Texas [docket; cert. petition, PDF] the court will decide (1) whether it violates the Eighth Amendment [text] and the Supreme Court’s decisions in Hall v. Florida [JURIST report] and Atkins v. Virginia [opinion] to prohibit the use of current medical standards on intellectual disability, and require the use of outdated medical standards, in determining whether an individual may be executed; and (2) whether execution of a condemned individual more than three-and-a-half decades after the imposition of a death sentence violates the Eighth Amendment.

Buck v. Stephens [docket; cert. petition, PDF] concerns racial bias and discrimination. The question before the court is whether the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit imposed an improper and unduly burdensome Certificate of Appealability (COA) standard when it denied Buck a COA on his motion to reopen the judgment and obtain merits review of his claim that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for knowingly presenting an “expert” who testified that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black, where future dangerousness was both a prerequisite for a death sentence and the central issue at sentencing.

Also Monday the court agreed to take on a case regarding racial gerrymandering. The court noted jurisdiction in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections [docket; jurisdictional statement, PDF]. The questions before the court are:

  1. Did the court below err in holding that race cannot predominate even where it is the most important consideration in drawing a given district unless the use of race results in “actual conflict” with traditional districting criteria?
  2. Did the court below err by concluding that the admitted use of a one-size-fits-all 55% black voting age population floor to draw twelve separate House of Delegates districts does not amount to racial predominance and trigger strict scrutiny?
  3. Did the court below err in disregarding the admitted use of race in drawing district lines in favor of examining circumstantial evidence regarding the contours of the districts?
  4. Did the court below err in holding that racial goals must negate all other districting criteria in order for race to predominate?
  5. Did the court below err in concluding that the General Assembly’s predominant use of race in drawing House District 75 was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest?