Is Atkins the Antithesis or Apotheosis of Anti-Discrimination Principles? Sorting Out the Groupwide Effects of Exempting People with Mental Retardation from the Death Penalty
Slobogin, Christopher, 1951-
In "Atkins v. Virginia", the U.S. Supreme Court held that people with mental retardation may not be executed. z Many advocates for people with disability cheered the decision, because it provides a group of disabled people with protection from the harshest punishment imposed by our society. But other disability advocates were dismayed by "Atkins", not because they are fans of the death penalty, but because they believe that declaring disabled people ineligible for a punishment that is accorded all others denigrates disabled people as something less than human. If people with disability are to be treated equally, these dissenters suggest, they should be treated equally in all areas of the law, including capital sentencing. This brief piece explores these two views of "Atkins" more fully. My conclusion is that, while "Atkins" is neither the apotheosis nor the antithesis of anti-discrimination principles, overall "Atkins" is good for the disability rights movement and for disabled people. After describing the "Atkins" decision and its critics, I explain why those who believe "Atkins" stigmatizes people with disability are wrong.