The Nation‘s Liliana Segura on the execution of a mentally retarded man in Texas, which took place yesterday after the Supreme Court declined to intervene. (Segura wrote her post before the execution and updated it afterward.) The state of Texas did not deny that fifty-four-year-old Marvin Wilson was disabled.
It just does not believe that Wilson is disabled enough not to be executed in Texas—a flagrant violation of the 2002 Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, which held that “the mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution,” period.[...][A] man who has been diagnosed with an IQ of 61 and who sucked his thumb well into adulthood now faces the prospect of being strapped to a gurney and injected with lethal chemicals until he is pronounced dead. “It doesn’t usually get to this point when you have an Atkins claim this strong,” his lawyer, Lee Kovarsky, told me over the phone on Sunday. “This claim is really sort of the worst of the worst.”
Kovarsky grew up in Texas and has seen his share of death row injustices. Yet, clients like his are hardly exceptional. “If getting the death penalty is like getting struck by lightning,” he says, drawing on Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quote about the arbitrariness of capital punishment, “then it seems to strike offenders with MR a lot. Because their disability prevents them from effectively disputing guilt or culpability, they end up on death row for some of the least aggravated first-degree murders that are tried to verdict.”
Indeed, a list compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center shows forty-four such prisoners executed before Atkins, noting that some claiming intellectual disability have been killed since then. Others, like Johnny Paul Penry—a man with an IQ of 56 who did not know how many hours there were in a day, still believed in Santa Claus and came within days of execution in 2000—are now imprisoned for life.
William Galston on the GOP’s philosophy of voter suppression. Most conservatives say tightening registration procedures is simply a matter of preventing voter fraud (which all the evidence suggests is exceedingly uncommon). But other conservatives are frank about their belief that some kinds of Americans should be discouraged from voting.
Some arch-conservatives have gone so far as to argue that encouraging the poor to vote actually undermines just and limited government, because the poor will use their political power to take economic resources from those who are not poor. One such conservative, Matthew Vadum, put it this way:
Why are left-wing activist groups so keen on registering the poor to vote? Because they know that the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians . . . . Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals.
This is a classic argument against democracy that traces all the way back to the Greeks. It disappeared from serious American political discourse when states eliminated their property qualifications for voting nearly two centuries ago. In practice, America’s poor have opted for the American Dream of equal opportunity over aggressively redistributionist politics—witness their rejection of stringent estate taxes, a stance most liberals regard as patently self-defeating and view with incomprehension.
New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait on why Washington accepts mass unemployment:
[F]or affluent people, there is essentially no recession. Unemployment for workers with a bachelors degree is 4 percent — boom times. Unemployment is also unusually low in the Washington, D.C., area, owing to our economy’s reliance on federal spending, which has not had to impose the punishing austerity of so many state and local governments.
I live in a Washington neighborhood almost entirely filled with college-educated professionals, and it occurred to me not long ago that, when my children grow up, they’ll have no personal memory of having lived through the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. It is more akin to a famine in Africa. For millions and millions of Americans, the economic crisis is the worst event of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, health insurance, opportunities for their children, seen their skills deteriorate, and lost their sense of self-worth. But from the perspective of those in a position to alleviate their suffering, the crisis is merely a sad and distant tragedy.
And the British novelist Martin Amis on his recent move to America:
The phrase “American exceptionalism” was coined in 1929 by none other than Josef Stalin, who condemned it as a “heresy.” (He meant that America, like everywhere else, was subject to the iron laws of Karl Marx.) If that much-mocked notion still means anything, we should apply it to America’s exceptionally hospitable attitude to outsiders (and America has certainly been exceptionally hospitable to me and my family). All friends of the stars and stripes are pained to see that this unique and noble tradition is now under threat, and from all sides; but America remains, definingly, an immigrant society, vast and formless; writers have always occupied an unresented place in it, because everyone subliminally understood that they would play a part in construing its protean immensity. Remarkably, the “American Century” (to take another semi-wowserism) is due to last exactly that long—with China scheduled for prepotence in about 2045. The role of the writers, for the time being, is at least clear enough. They will be taking America’s temperature, and checking its pulse, as the New World follows the old country down the long road of decline.