This should earn Scalia the “Worst Judge in America” award. Here we have a very probably innocent man on death row:
Troy Anthony Davis has been languishing on Georgia’s death row for over 15 years for purportedly killing an off-duty police officer. There are serious questions about his guilt given that:
- There is no physical evidence linking him to the offense, and no murder weapon has been found.
- Eyewitnesses have recanted their stories.
- There are accusations of police intimidation of witnesses.
The majority of the Supreme Court decided that maybe those claims of innocence were worthy of a look before it’s too late:
The Supreme Court on Monday took the rare step of ordering a federal judge to consider the innocence claims of condemned Georgia prisoner Troy Anthony Davis, who has mounted a global campaign to declare he was wrongfully convicted of murder and barred by federal law from presenting the evidence that would prove it.
And Scalia dissents in disgusting fashion:
Joined by Justice Clarence Thomas in dissent, however, Justice Antonin Scalia criticized his colleagues for thinking that mere innocence is grounds to overturn a conviction:
This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.
So in Justice Scalia’s world, the law has no problem with sending an innocent man to die. One wonders why we even bother to have a Constitution.
In Justice Scalia’s world, one rather gets the sense that the spirit of the Constitution is surplus to requirements.
Thankfully, the majority of our justices do not live in such a world, and therefore did the right thing. I have a feeling I know which set of Justices the Founders would be proudest of today.
Two books Cons desperately need.
Cujo’s got a great tutorial up on the Constitution, the Courts, and how American democracy works. Perhaps if it’s patiently and repeatedly read to Cons, something will sink in.
In that spirit, let’s start by repeating this part of the lesson:
The way that the framers of the Constitution tried to ensure that government would be bound by the Constitution was to set up a court system that could interpret it. Article III defines the Supreme Court, and specifies what powers and responsibilities it will have. Section 2 includes this sentence:
In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.
U.S Constitution: Article III, Section 2
Obviously, I’ve added that emphasis, which points out that courts, to at least some degree, were allowed to interpret what the law was. Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist Number 78 wrote this about the role of the courts:
The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex post facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this kind can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing.
The Federalist No. 78: The Judiciary Department
In a perfect society, where the government always correctly interpreted and observed the law, court powers of this nature would be unnecessary. Of course, in a perfect society, courts would probably be unnecessary in every way we now use them.
Do you think it would help if we tattooed it on their chests, where they could see it every morning as they’re flexing their flab in front of the mirror pretending they’re Jack Bauer?