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Supreme Court To Hear Cases Challenging Two Texas Death Sentences

The justices on Monday agreed to hear Bobby James Moore and Duane Buck's cases.

Chris Geidner/BuzzFeed

The Supreme Court building on June 6, 2016.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday morning announced that it will hear challenges to the death sentences of two people on Texas' death row, Bobby James Moore and Duane Buck.

Moore's case presents a question about how Texas allows people to prove that they are intellectually disabled, which the justices have repeatedly said renders a person ineligible for the death penalty.

The court turned aside a request to consider a second, potentially groundbreaking question from Moore about whether it is unconstitutional to execute a person who has spent more than 35 years on death row.

The second case, brought by Duane Buck, presents a question about what happens when a capital defendant's own trial counsel calls an expert witness at sentencing who testifies that the defendant's future dangerousness is increased because he is black — and how challenges to that trial counsel's decision should be addressed by the courts.

The cases will be heard in the Supreme Court's upcoming term, which begins in October.

The question about delay has regularly been turned down by the court over the past 20 years. In the initial orders from the court on Monday morning, it appeared the court would be considering both of the questions in Moore's case. A little before noon, however, the court issued a "corrected order list," which reflected that the court would not be considering the delay issue.

The delay issue is a question that Justice John Paul Stevens first wrote was a noteworthy issue in 1995. Stevens wrote, in Clarence Allen Lackey's case, that "the importance and novelty of the question presented" by Lackey's case "are sufficient to warrant review by this Court," but that "those factors also provide a principled basis for postponing consideration of the issue until after it has been addressed by other courts." At that time, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that he agreed the question was an "important undecided one."

The Supreme Court repeatedly has, since then, turned down consideration of inmates' claims on the issue — often referred to since as a Lackey claim — over the objection of Stevens and Breyer.

In 2009, dissenting from a denial of certiorari in a claim brought by Cecil Johnson, Stevens, joined by Breyer, dissented from the court's decision not to hear the case, writing that is was "[m]ost regrettabl[e]" that "a majority of this Court continues to find these issues not of sufficient weight to merit our attention."

Since Stevens' retirement, Breyer has continued to voice his view that the court should consider the issue.

UPDATE

This story has been updated to reflect the Supreme Court's "corrected order list."

Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.

Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.

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