Supreme Court: Texas’ Custodial Guardianship Act unconstitutional
By Ars Technic staffThe United States Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Texas’ guardianship law is unconstitutional, finding that it’s based on the same “unconstitutional doctrine” as the death penalty.
The court’s opinion comes less than a month after the justices unanimously rejected a challenge to Texas’ death penalty statute that critics say would allow prosecutors to obtain DNA evidence to try death row inmates, potentially causing miscarriages of justice.
The decision was based on Texas’ claim that it had to keep its death penalty law from being interpreted as a death penalty, and its reliance on the so-called “fundamental right of a free society” to protect the “vital and inviolable right to life,” according to the justices.
“The Texas death penalty provision does not violate the fundamental right of free speech or freedom of religion protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” they wrote.
“The right to free speech and free religion are inseparable from each other.
The fundamental right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, including capital punishment, is an indispensable part of the American legal system.”
The Supreme Court did not address whether Texas’ law violated any constitutional rights.
The justices declined to weigh in on the constitutionality of the Texas death sentence law, which was passed in response to a series of botched executions in Texas, a state with the second-highest number of executions in the country.
The justices ruled that the Texas law is “incompatible with the Constitution’s guarantee of fundamental rights and liberties,” as well as with the states “fundamentally unconstitutionally burdened” by the death sentences it imposed.
In their decision, the justices said that the law’s prohibition on mandatory DNA testing is an unconstitutional burden on the ability of courts to determine guilt or innocence and that “it violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The justices noted that the death sentence is an “invasive, punitive measure” and that the Supreme Court has held that the punishment “must not be arbitrarily inflicted.”
“The legislature’s failure to address the constitutional issue has created a situation where defendants, especially young defendants, face the prospect of an unjustified and disproportionate penalty, which is inconsistent with the constitutional guarantees of due process,” the court wrote.
The Texas law, also known as the Texas Death Penalty Act, passed in 2005 and was signed into law by then-Gov.
The Texas death row population rose from 7,919 to almost 8,000 by the time the law was passed.
The state also has the second highest rate of inmates exonerated in the nation after Florida, according to a study published by the University of California, Irvine.
The study, which used a random sample of Texas inmates, found that more than 80 percent of those sentenced to death were innocent and only a third had been convicted of a crime.