Insanity, Execution, and the US Supreme Court

The Story:

The US Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments again on the first Monday in October. This year that falls on October 7.  Some fascinating and politically sensitive cases sit on the docket for the forthcoming session, including a controversy over the constitutional status of the insanity defense, which the Justices will hear on that first day back from their break.


The 14th amendment to the US Constitution provides that “no state shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

The Supreme Court has long held that the due process requirement is most stringent for the first of those threats, a proposed deprivation of life: that is, there is a “super due process” required for application of the death penalty.

In a matter that the Court will hear Monday, lawyers for a death row inmate will argue that a Kansas law abolishing the insanity defense in a capital matter deprived their client of this necessary super due process of law, and they will ask that his sentence be overturned.

The Thing to Know: 

The Supreme Court’s capital-punishment jurisprudence has always been unpredictable, and the addition of two Donald Trump nominees to the bench over the last two years has not by any means made this case a ‘slam dunk’ for Kansas.

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