Could Arizona Case Topple The Death Penalty?

Death row inmate Abel Hidalgo argues that the Arizona death penalty law is unconstitutional because it doesn’t sufficiently narrow which murderers are eligible for executions. Former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal says the case is a “perfect example” to show the death penalty’s flaws.

Neal Katyal, President Obama’s acting solicitor general, is asking the Supreme Court to take up an Arizona case that could reshape or even end the death penalty in the U.S., BuzzFeed News reports. Arizona death row inmate Abel Daniel Hidalgo argues that the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional because it doesn’t do enough to narrow who is eligible for the death penalty among those convicted of murder. His attorney, Katyal, asked the high court this week to strike down the law. The filing comes more than two years after Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, called for a wholesale review of the constitutionality of the death penalty. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has also expressed concerns about some states’ death penalty laws.

Justice Anthony Kennedy also has expressed concerns about the death penalty’s imposition and has cast key votes excluding groups of people — like children and the intellectually disabled — from being executed. He has allowed several executions to proceed since Breyer’s opinion. Katyal says, “I have spent the last few years with my team looking for cases that highlight the gross problems with the death penalty in practice, and this case is a perfect example of them.” In 1972, the Supreme Court found the death penalty in the U.S. unconstitutional as then implemented. Four years later, the court brought it back — with new constraints — by approving several states’ new laws. In the new filing, Katyal wrote of that case, “[T]he Court acknowledged that it might someday revisit the constitutionality of the death penalty in light of ‘more convincing evidence.’ ”