Time to Slap Texas Again
Of all the things to be sloppy about, capital punishment seems to me to be among the worst (along with, say, the invasion of another nation). Finally, the Supreme Court is agreeing with me consistently on this point:
In the past year, the Supreme Court has heard three appeals from inmates on death row in
Texas, and in each case the prosecutors and the lower courts suffered stinging reversals.
In a case to be argued on Monday, the court appears poised to deliver another rebuke.
Lawyers for a Texas death row inmate, Thomas Miller-El, will appear before the justices for the second time in two years. To legal experts, the Supreme Court's decision to hear his case yet again is a sign of its growing impatience with two of the courts that handle death penalty cases from Texas: its highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans.
Perhaps as telling is the exasperated language in decisions this year from a Supreme Court that includes no categorical opponent of the death penalty. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in June that the Fifth Circuit was "paying lip service to principles" of appellate law in issuing death penalty rulings with "no foundation in the decisions of this court."
In an unsigned decision in another case last month, the Supreme Court said the Court of Criminal Appeals "relied on a test we never countenanced and now have unequivocally rejected." The decision was made without hearing argument, a move that ordinarily signals that the error in the decision under review was glaring.