Thursday, February 02, 2006

Don't Read More Into Alito's First Vote Than Necessary

Alito Sides With Mo. Inmate on Death-Row


WASHINGTON (AP) - New Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito split with the court's conservatives Wednesday night, refusing to let Missouri execute a death-row inmate contesting lethal injection.

Alito, handling his first case, sided with inmate Michael Taylor, who had won a stay from an appeals court earlier in the evening. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas supported lifting the stay, but Alito joined the remaining five members in turning down Missouri's last-minute request to allow a midnight execution.
OK, so why is this something we shouldn't take heart at?

Here's why:
An appeals court will now review Taylor's claim that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, a claim also used by two Florida death-row inmates that won stays from the Supreme Court over the past week. The court has agreed to use one of the cases to clarify how inmates may bring last-minute challenges to the way they will be put to death.

Alito replaced Sandra Day O'Connor, who had often been the swing vote in capital punishment cases. He was expected to side with prosecutors more often than O'Connor, although as an appeals court judge, his record in death penalty cases was mixed.
Did anyone honestly think that Alito would slap O'Connor in the face a day after she retired from the bench?

This is merely a stay. It does not stop the execution. And in truth, it merely brings up a technical legal question, not a look at the death penalty on the whole. This is the equivalent of a cop deciding not to give you a ticket for jaywalking after he arrests you for committing armed robbery.

This would have been the appeal that would have made me sit up and take notice, should Alito have sided with the defendant:
The court, acting without Alito, rejected Taylor's appeal that argued that Missouri's death penalty system is racist. Taylor is black and his victim was white. He filed the appeal on Tuesday, the day that Alito was confirmed by the Senate.
A challenge to the concept of a death penalty itself.

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