On Social Justice Revisiting Penry

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On Social Justice: Revisiting Penry, Vivian Berger, National Law Journal
Since the 1989 Penry v. Lynaugh case, the issue of whether inflicting capital punishment on individuals with mental retardation is unconstitutional has laid dormant, until now, reports Vivian Berger in the National Law Journal. The US Supreme Court will tackle this question in a recent case, Atkins v. Virginia, and decide if the death penalty is 'cruel and unusual punishment' for this particular class of people. In Penry, the Court voted 5-4 that people who suffer from mental retardation are not immune from capital punishment. But when this case was heard, only two states prescribed the death penalty to this class. Now that number has risen to 18 and includes the federal government, which may be one of the reasons why the Court has decided to hear the case. The Justices will confront the ethical issue of 'whether a particular practice conforms to 'evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.'' They will also have the task of categorizing what constitutes a person suffering from mental retardation as opposed to one who has a mental disability. As of now, there is an unofficial blanket test that is generally used by insurance companies that has three requirements a person has to have in order to be considered mentally retarded. All these issues will be confronted and decided soon by the Court when it hears the Atkins case.
--Mariam Pourshoushtari
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