"Hall v. Florida: Implementing Atkins and Protecting the Dignity of Persons with Intellectual Disability," is by John H. Blume at the ACS blog. He's a Cornell Law professor.
While Hall addressed (and fixed) one departure from the definition of intellectual disability, other states have created other equally if not more severe impediments to intellectually disabled death sentenced inmates seeking Atkins’ exemption from capital punishment. One such state, not surprisingly, is Texas, whose Court of Criminal Appeals in Ex Parte Briseno created from whole cloth a list of factors for courts to consider in deciding whether an inmate met the second prong of the test for intellectual disability (“deficits in adaptive functioning”). These “factors”–junk science at best–are not only fundamentally at odds with the “unanimous professional consensus,” but were, by the state court’s own admission, created to limit the reach of Atkins to those whom Texans would believe had sufficiently diminished moral capacity to be exempt from the death penalty. The court’s maneuver worked and the “Briseno factors” have made intellectual disability claims almost impossible to win in the Lone Star State.
Going forward, the question will be whether the Court meant what it said in Hall. Was Hall a one-off, or will state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court, hold states to the clinical definition of intellectual disability which–in the Court’s own words–was and ostensibly remain a “fundamental premise of Atkins.” Hall is a significant step in the right direction, but there are more steps to take before the risk of executing persons with intellectual disability is dissipated, and our commitment to dignity and human decency is fulfilled.
Erwin Chemerinsky writes, "How disabled is disabled enough to be executed?" for the Orange County Register. He's Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law.
In Hall v. Florida, the Supreme Court ruled that using a score on an IQ test as the sole measure of intellectual disability is unconstitutional. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Justice Kennedy explained that established medical practice would look at multiple factors in determining intellectual disability and would not put so much emphasis on an imprecise test. He explained that “the reality [is] that an individual’s intellectual functioning cannot be reduced to a single numerical score.” He said that Florida seeks to execute Hall because his IQ is 71, rather than 70, and the Constitution does not permit that.
USA Today posts, "Court throws out 'mental retardation': Column," by Tony Mauro.
The U.S. Supreme Court is often divided, but on one little-noticed point last week, it was unanimous: the term "mental retardation" is no longer appropriate to use. This may seem trivial and way too late. Mental health professionals and most of the rest of us long ago abandoned that phrase, which echoes insulting schoolyard epithets.
But at an institution whose decisions have broad impact, the court's action is a significant sign of society's progress toward treating each other with dignity.
The court's shift came Tuesday in Hall v. Florida, which struck down Florida's method for determining whether a death row inmate who claims intellectual disability should be executed. On that issue, the court split 5-4.
But on the second page of the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy laid down the law on terminology: "Previous opinions of this court have employed the term 'mental retardation.' This opinion uses the term 'intellectual disability' to describe the identical phenomenon." Justice Samuel Alito Jr. adopted the same term in his dissent. As recently as 2013, the court routinely used "mental retardation" in its opinions.
Advocacy groups such as the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and The Arc — both of which once had "retardation" or "retarded" in their names — applauded the shift. In addition to the symbolic importance, they said they can now use "intellectual disability" in legal briefs. Until last week's decision, they used the outdated terminology to track the wording of precedents and avoid confusion.
"Supreme Court Finally Takes Big Step In Putting An End To The 'R Word'," is by Eleanor Goldberg at Huffington Post.
This ruling may only help a relatively few number of inmates -- it’s likely that it will aid just two of the eight death row inmates in Virginia, for example, according to The Washington Post. But it was the wording of the ruling that could have a sweeping effect.
"Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
It wasn’t just the decision that advocates lauded, it was Kennedy's shunning of archaic terminology.
"Previous opinions of this Court have employed the term 'mental retardation,'" he wrote. "This opinion uses the term 'intellectual disability' to describe the identical phenomenon."
For those fighting for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, such a shift in language marks monumental progress that can be so easily achieved.
"Using more neutral terminology to describe a person with [intellectual disabilities], when they need to be described at all, is just one more way to respect them," wrote blogger Ellen Seidman who chronicles life raising a child with special needs. "Not the only way, of course, just one. An easy one."
Advocates continue to raise awareness about the hurt that is involved with using the word "retarded" in the hopes of encouraging people to stop using the word pejoratively and to cease using it in medical, legal and educational settings.
With the Court's ruling and revision of language, I'm adding a new Intellectual Disability category index that will be used moving forward. Pre-Hall posts on the topic will remain in the now-retired mental retardation category index.
Earlier coverage of Hall v. Florida begins at the link.