The Supreme Court, in its landmark 6-3 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, has taken the penultimate step toward total elimination of the death penalty in the United States.  The facts of the case are clear: Daryl Atkins and an accomplice plotted to rob a customer in a convenience store; abducting their victim, they took him to an ATM and forced him to withdraw $200; they then drove to a remote area and released their victim, whom Atkins shot eight times for no apparent reason except to eliminate the witness.  The defense put forward by Atkins’ lawyers, that he scored 59 on an IQ test, was rejected by a jury, which may have put more stock in testimony that the murderer, though far from being a scholastic philosopher—or even rocket-scientist material—appeared to have normal intelligence.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, could not even pretend to find evidence that the execution of the dull and stupid had ever constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.”  Like all leftist lawyers, he had to fall back on the theory of progress as spelled out in a 1958 Supreme Court decision based on “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”  That decision was not given in 1758, when a plausible case might have been made that standards of decency were improving, but in 1958, after the two most destructive wars in human history, the Nazi death camps, the fire bombings of German civilian centers, the detonation of two atomic bombs on Japanese civilians, the mass murders of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.  Only a moral idiot, like Stevens and Sandra Day O’Connor, could possibly regard the world of 2002 as morally superior to the world of 1902.  The majority also held that the death penalty could not act as a deterrent for retarded people who are, presumably, incapable of seeing the future consequences of their actions.

The “usual suspects,” as Justices Antonin Scalia, William Rehnquist, and Clarence Thomas are known in the leftist press, voted to uphold the death penalty, and in his passionate and learned dissent, Justice Scalia placed much weight on Justice Stevens’ misinterpretation of the Eighth Amendment and on the obvious fact that there is no consensus against executing the mentally “retarded.” 

There is another, more fundamental aspect to the decision, however, that Justice Scalia chose (perhaps correctly) not to address, and that is the connection between intelligence and moral responsibility (and even human personhood) that is often assumed in discussions of the other end of the life issue, the question of abortion.  Many conscientious people say they oppose abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and unborn children incapable of leading a normal life, either because of severe physical defects or because of mental retardation.  When students used to make this case in one of my college classes, I could usually persuade them to put the IQ cutoff line around 60 or 55.  I would then point out to them that at least a few of the students had IQ’s in the 100-115 range, and that I knew plenty of people with IQ’s over 145 who might be tempted to look at people with a 100 IQ as not really human.   As a high-school principal, however, I dealt with students with IQ’s in the 50’s and 60’s, and although they could not pass algebra, they could get through first-year Latin, and they knew the difference between truth and lies, right and wrong.  They were human beings, capable of leading lives that are morally responsible and fulfilling.

Intelligence and moral responsibility do not go hand in hand.  The Nazi leaders were, for the most part, quite bright, even brilliant men.  Their intelligence, however, did them no good.  If a man with a 59 IQ cannot rationally understand that a murder today may result in an execution a few years down the road, what shall we say of a fictional Hannibal Lecter or a real Heinrich Himmler?  That they were morally incapable of regarding murder as a crime?  I am sure John Paul Stevens, Sandy O’Connor, Ruth Ginsburg, and the others are all smart as whips—and look where it got them.  On the evidence of this and other decisions, a liberal jurist would have to conclude that the justices cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.

The justices’ decision to define human responsibility in terms of IQ has grim consequences that a prudent man should be able to foresee.  If people of low intelligence are not responsible for their actions, they obviously cannot be trusted to live among us.  The only rational conclusion is that the federal government should establish a new legal category for those who do not make the cutoff (now defined as an IQ of 60, though I suspect it will turn out to be something like 85).  Such people obviously cannot be allowed to vote, sit on juries, or hold public office.  They cannot, in other words, be citizens.  More fundamentally, they cannot be allowed to roam free, committing murders for which we cannot hold them responsible.  

Progressive jurists such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Nazi judges consistently held that stupid people should be sterilized.  The progressive majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has now discovered a very good reason why stupid people should be incarcerated in concentration camps.  Someday, when the progressives return to their roots, they will probably declare—on the basis of Atkins v. Virginia—that stupid people do not have the right to live, just as they currently do not have the right to be born.