The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, Tuesday that states cannot use a hard IQ cut-off of 70 to determine whether defendants are too mentally disabled to be eligible for the death penalty.
Swing Justice Anthony Kennedy joined with the court’s Democratic-appointees to strike down a Florida law dictating that those with IQ scores of 70 or under could not be executed, but denying defendants with slightly higher scores any ability to argue that they are too intellectually limited to be constitutionally put to death.
“Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number,” Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “In using these scores to assess a defendant’s eligibility for the death penalty, a State must afford these test scores the same studied skepticism that those who design and use the tests do, and understand that an IQ test score represents a range rather than a fixed number. A State that ignores the inherent imprescision of these tests risks executing a person who suffers from intellectual disability.”