Texas Governor Rick Perry has been roundly criticized editorially for several of his vetoes of legislation passed in the recently concluded legislative session, none more vociferously than his rejection of a bill banning the execution of mentally retarded murderers. Some suggested that this adds to Texas’ image as a callous and cruel place. But, in fact, it should enhance its image as a place that respects the role of juries in the American Constitutional system of justice, a role that, properly understood, gives juries much more authority in applying the law than most judges, lawyers, and our political class want to admit. To reduce determination of the capacity of the accused at the time of the crime purely to narrow legal definitions adds to the procedural complexity of applying justice, which should be, as one letter to The Houston Chronicle noted, “to balance the spirit and the letter of the law.” William Saletan, writing in “Slate”, makes the analogy of the death penalty debate with the abortion debate in the sense that, he says, both have a pro-life side and a pro-choice side, and he alleges that abortion “pro-lifers” are mainly death penalty “pro-choicers”, particularly when it comes to executions of the mentally retarded. Considering the drastic moral differentiation between abortion and execution, this analogy is a huge reach for all but the political demagogues who want to govern by polling and anecdotal reference to high profile case.
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