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NEW SERIES ON THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURTS JURISPRUDENCE

Over the next few weeks we shall be posting a series of blog pieces by our guest writer, Roman Friedrich, on developments in the Supreme Court of the United States.

close up court courthouse hammer
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Finally, after tumultuous and politically-charged debates about individual credibility and general ethical questions surrounding the third branch of government, Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as the U.S. Supreme Court’s 114th Justice. He succeeds Justice Anthony Kennedy, a frequent swing-voter and, according to some commentators, the last moderate conservative remaining on America’s highest court.

In the 2018 term which started last week the fully-staffed nine-member court will face fewer high-profile cases than in previous years. (This may, at least partly, be on purpose since the court could not, after the announcement of Kennedy’s retirement, be sure about when the ninth Justice would arrive.)

Still, there will be a large array of cases substantial fundamental or human rights implications. Some of the more interesting ones will be presented in a line of blog posts over the next weeks.

So, which are the cases that are due to be dealt with by the SCOTUS?

One of the first cases up for oral argument in October was Madison v. Alabama, implicating, like so many other Supreme Court cases, the most fundamental human right, i.e. the right to life. Not untypically in American constitutional law, the legal question on the right to life in Madison v. Alabama arrives at the steps of the court in the form of a death row inmate set for execution: In 1985, Madison shot a police officer in Mobile, Alabama. In 1994, he was convicted (the jury disbelieved that he was acting in self-defense) and sentenced to death.

After decades of proceedings in state and federal court, his original execution date (May 2016) was postponed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit finding him incompetent to be executed. Madison is in a very bad state of health, after several strokes he has incurred substantial brain damage, including slurred speech, blindness and urinary incompetence. Most importantly, the damage to his brain renders him unable to remember committing the crime for which he is to be executed.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether the Eighth Amendment (prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment) and the court’s prior jurisprudence prohibit a state from executing a prisoner whose mental disability leaves him with no memory of the commission of the offense.

The case will be an early test for how the newly-composed court will lean in capital cases but the court’s early handling of the case – in 2017 the court denied relief under the federal habeas corpus statute – does not give reason for much optimism on the part of Madison.

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