The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution is the latest casualty of a rogue U.S. Supreme Court, with the radical extremists deciding that no, not everyone really is entitled to competent legal defense and once again overturning Supreme Court precedent to do it. The court, 6-3, ruled that federal judges cannot hear new evidence from death row inmates arguing that their state-appointed lawyers did not provide constitutionally adequate defense.
This, as University of Texas law professor Lee Kovarsky argues in this thread on Twitter, will particularly hurt indigent defendants—those who have to rely on public defenders and state-appointed lawyers in appeal. It also reverses precedent from just a decade ago from the Supreme Court in Martinez v. Ryan and Trevino v. Thaler, decisions that gave defendants the right to appeal to a federal judge if state-appointed defense and post-conviction lawyers failed to provide a competent defense.
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This means that innocent people are going to be put to death. One of them is likely to be Barry Jones, one of the petitioners in this case whose conviction came after shoddy police work and inadequate defense. David Ramirez, the second petitioner, is severely mentally disabled. That fact was never raised by his defense attorney, even though federal law would exempt Ramirez from the death penalty.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent. “The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants
the right to the effective assistance of counsel at trial. This Court [in Martinez] has recognized that right as ‘a bedrock principle’ that constitutes the very ‘foundation for our adversary system’ of criminal justice,” she wrote. “Today, however, the Court hamstrings the federal courts’ authority to safeguard that right. The Court’s decision will leave many people who were convicted in violation
of the Sixth Amendment to face incarceration or even execution without any meaningful chance to vindicate their right to counsel.”
“In reaching its decision, the Court all but overrules two recent precedents that recognized a critical exception to the general rule that federal courts may not consider claims on habeas review that were not raised in state court,” she continued.
This decision is perverse. It is illogical: It makes no sense to excuse a habeas petitioner’s counsel’s failure to raise a claim altogether because of ineffective assistance in postconviction proceedings, as Martinez and Trevino did, but to fault the same petitioner for that postconviction counsel’s failure to develop evidence in support of the trial-ineffectiveness claim. In so doing, the Court guts Martinez’s and Trevino’s core reasoning. The Court also arrogates power from Congress: The Court’s analysis improperly reconfigures the balance Congress struck in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) between state interests and individual constitutional rights.
By the Court’s telling, its holding (however implausible) is compelled by statute. Make no mistake. Neither AEDPA nor this Court’s precedents require this result. I respectfully dissent.
The same Supreme Court extremists who are poised to toss federal abortion rights presumably in respect to the sanctity of life have just ensured that more people—some of whom are innocent—will be put to death by the state. It’s enough make you think what’s going on here among the conservatives really haas nothing to do with the preservation of life at all.
Perverse. Illogical. Dangerous. This is a bunch of extremists hell-bent on remaking American society under their Christian white supremacist vision, and they’ve got the power to do it. Only Congress can do something about it, by expanding the court. That solution is looking less and less radical by the day.