Social Pressure Works: Court Orders Stay of Execution for Scott Panetti


Earlier today, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the imminent execution of a convicted murderer named Scott Panetti. He was set to be killed less than eight hours later at 6 p.m. local time.

The reasoning given was "to allow us to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter." It's not clear what new information or "late arriving" developments sparked the decision, but it seems highly likely that sustained, vocal opposition from a large number of conservative leaders, including former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, played a role. A letter signed by nearly two-dozen such individuals argues that Panetti is not of sound mind and that, as a result, taking his life would be immoral.

Said Marc Hyden of the group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty in a statement after the announcement:

Political conservatives and Evangelicals from Ron Paul to Jay Sekulow have helped awaken our nation to what many view as a travesty of justice. Texas was about to cross a line by executing a severely mentally ill man. A wide array of conservative and faith leaders have spoken out in record numbers about this case. We have made it abundantly clear that numerous conservatives and Evangelicals view executing those who are mentally ill as a violation of our values as Americans. Conservatives have demonstrated we are firmly part of what appears to be a national consensus against executing people who are mentally ill.

See my colleague Lauren Galik's discussion of the Panetti case here.

Read my examination of shifting conservative attitudes about capital punishment here

Or watch "3 Reasons to Get Rid of the Death Penalty" from Reason TV, below.

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  1. So are we celebrating, or criticizing, the fact that apparently the courts are swayed by social and political pressure?

    1. RC, am I wrong, or is nearly everything that courts do in this country from their rulings to the professional ethics for lawyers designed to protect the public's confidence in them?

      In the end that is really all they have.

      1. Yeah, but one might hope that they would protect the public's confidence in them by applying the law fairly and impartially, without regard to social and political pressure.

    2. maybe civic engagemnt is a good way to advance a philosophy? how has sitting around with your thumbs up your asses whining about how noone automaically and unquestioningly accepts your philosophy worked out for ya?

      1. So you're celebrating the courts responding to social and political pressure.

        Such as, one presumes, courts in the deep south routinely acquitting white people who committed crimes against blacks, due to the social and political pressure of the time.

        1. just as you celebrate turnng trials into popularity contests by way of jury nullification. either you want the rule of law or not picka premise ans stick with it

          1. Count on the ballsack to not see any difference between a jury nullifying an unjust law by exercising its legal authority, and an appellate judge making decisions based on twitter and editorials by the politically connected.

            1. count on rcdean or any libertarian to not see the interrelatedness of a principle.

              1. Help me out, then.

                What common principle is shared by the following actions:

                (1) a jury nullifying an unjust law by exercising its legal authority

                (2) an appellate judge making decisions based on twitter and editorials by the politically connected

  2. I'm for the death penalty in principle (as punishment for murder, and talking back to your parents), but I oppose it as a practical matter, since the government has no moral authority to put someone to death.

    1. Not just moral authority, but they lack competence as well.

      Best figures I can find:

      3035 inmates on death row in the United States

      About 4% of death row inmates are wrongfully convicted ( based on past exonerations, primarily from post conviction DNA tests )

      This means we are currently set to execute around 120 innocent people.

      1. How many are actually executed?

  3. I think that larger issue is whether or not somebody is competent to stand trial. If competent, why would penalty A be ok, but not Penalty B?

    1. Because penalty A can be rescinded and some compensation applied when a mistake is made. Penalty B is for keeps.

      1. Sure, but why would somebody who is competent to stand trial be immunized against some penalties, but not others?

      2. That's true with the death penalty regardless of the competence of the condemned.

        If you're not competent enough to receive any given penalty, should you really be tried? I would submit that you should not.

  4. I think it is probable that there are some crimes so severe that you must be permanently removed from interaction with any other people and forfeit your own right to existence.

    However, I don't believe our current system is good enough to be trusted.

    Mainly, though, I'm pretty apathetic to this issue.

  5. Was not Panetti's competence to stand trial already adjudicated?

    1. A jury found him competent to stand trial, and 2 courts found him competent to be executed. It seems lost on some people *Ken Shultz in an earlier thread, for example* that his trial result is not in question in this appeal, only his competence to face the death penalty. If he wins, he gets to sit in prison, apparently too delusional to even know his own name, for however long it takes him to die or commit suicide. And even if his competency to stand trial were the relevant question, he'd get to have a judge, a state psychiatrist, and a state-appointed caretaker/advocate throw him in a psych ward rather than a prison cell for the same duration.

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