The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a convicted cop killer without memory of committing the murder is eligible for the death penalty.
The ruling reversed a decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that said the dementia and stroke suffered by Vernon Madison, who killed an Alabama police officer in 1985, prohibited his execution because he was incompetent under the Eighth Amendment's protection from cruel and unusual punishment.
The Supreme Court disagreed in a per curiam decision on Monday, meaning the opinion was delivered on behalf of the entire court rather than authored by any individual justice.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a concurrence agreeing with the high court's resolution, but arguing that Madison's case presented important matters unaddressed by the high court.
"The issue whether a state may administer the death penalty to a person whose disability leaves him without memory of his commission of a capital offense is a substantial question not yet addressed by the [Supreme] Court," Ginsburg wrote in a concurrence joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. "Appropriately presented, the issue would warrant full airing. But in this case, the restraints imposed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, I agree, preclude consideration of the question."
Breyer also wrote separately to reiterate his call for the Supreme Court to reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty.
"[W]e may face ever more instances of state efforts to execute prisoners suffering the diseases and infirmities of old age," Breyer wrote. "And we may well have to consider the ways in which lengthy periods of imprisonment between death sentence and execution can deepen the cruelty of the death penalty while at the same time undermining its penological rationale."
He added, "Rather than develop a constitutional jurisprudence that focuses upon the special circumstances of the aged, however, I believe it would be wiser to reconsider the root cause of the problem — the constitutionality of the death penalty itself."