The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has permanently shut down district judge Kevin Fine's quixotic and headline-grabbing effort to examine the constitutionality of how Texas applies the death penalty.
In an order issued this morning, the CCA says Fine had no business conducting hearings into whether the state has executed innocent people.
Leave it to the Lege, the high court said:
These are indeed weighty public policy issues, greatly deserving of considerable debate by the appropriate people, in the appropriate forum, and at the appropriate time. They are issues that opponents of capital punishment have been raising since the mid-nineteenth century.
Certainly the Texas Legislature is an appropriate forum in which to debate these public policy issues. Footnote That is also an appropriate forum to decide whether to abolish the death penalty in Texas or to enact statutory or constitutional improvements to the current legislative system. The Legislature will be meeting in the very near future and is fully competent to address these issues.
Yeah, the Texas Legislature: The perfect forum for a reasoned, open-minded debate about the efficacy and fairness of how the state kills people.
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Fine had gotten a lot of attention when he first announced he would be holding hearings on the subject; the Democrat almost immediately began backtracking and trying to limit the scope of what he would be considering.
Nevertheless the CCA, Texas's highest court for criminal matters, issued a temporary injunction stopping the hearings last month. Today's ruling makes the injunction permanent.
The lawyers for the defendant in the hearing, John Edward Green, said they were disappointed. "Before the Court blocked Mr. Green's evidence, there were two days of testimony that showed the system is riddled with errors, inherently unreliable, and in urgent need of reforms," they said in a released statement.
District Attorney Pat Lykos also responded, praising the decision: "People of good will can disagree about the death penalty and debate the issue. A court of law is not the venue for speculative oratory," she said. "Courtrooms are the place where relevant and material evidence is introduced before judges and juries who have sworn an oath to be unbiased. Verdicts are based on the law and evidence."