May 26, 2019 | 78° F

WASON: Supreme Court carried out injustice, stealing man’s liberty


Opinion Column: Disputed Territory


In a polarized political environment such as the one we find ourselves in, it is absolutely vital to the prospects of limiting the vitriol that exists behind policy-based divisions that we are able to make clear exactly what it is we are discussing. Far too often the substantive issues at the core of our disagreements are lost in the semantics of what exists today as a charlatanic excuse for political discourse. Well, we will give it a shot anyway. 

Today marks the 12th day since Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray was put to death by lethal injection in Alabama for the 1995 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. In the hours leading up to execution, it is standard practice that all condemned inmates are given unfiltered access to their spiritual advisors. 

In Alabama, prison policy allows for these spiritual advisors to accompany a condemned inmate into the execution chamber and remain present as the condemned takes their final breath. The caveat? They must be Christian — just as the ostensibly religious-freedom obsessed, conservative majority of the Supreme Court remarkably reaffirmed by ruling to allow the execution to proceed without Ray being able to have a representative of his own faith present. 

While the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found reason to believe that Alabama’s refusal to allow Ray access to an imam in the death chamber may have violated his constitutional rights by granting a stay, the Supreme Court shamefully did not. The Court ruled that Ray had enough time to bring these issues up beforehand while largely staying out of the heart of the dispute. Alabama’s defense that only “trained” staff, such as its Christian chaplain, could enter the execution chamber despite allowing the imam full access to the inmate just feet before the chamber was lacking in reason. 

Furthermore, if supposed training was a genuine concern of the state, why has it not already trained and prepared clergy from different faiths? Surely, the Supreme Court should have noticed that the state has had ample time to do this as well. Given that they are the ones responsible for carrying out the sentence, it seems reasonable to me that they be prepared to do so in a way that does not violate the religious freedoms of any inmates. 

Unity is a rarity within the realm of politics these days but this case has rightfully alarmed both sides of the aisle: the conservatives who saw the fiasco as a sleight against the religious freedom afforded to us in the First Amendment and liberals who saw a miscarriage of justice taking place against a religious minority. 

It is important to remember that I am not here to argue for or against the evidence in Ray’s case, nor am I here to discuss the merits, legal or moral, of capital punishment in general. In fact, there are no real doubts about Ray’s guilt regarding his crimes. 

He was sentenced to death following his conviction for the rape and murder of 15-year-old Tiffany Harville but was also found guilty in the killing of two boys in a separate case for which he was given a life sentence. Was Ray a saint? No. Did Ray deserve to die? We can debate that. But should his faith prevent him from getting the same treatment as his Christian neighbors on Death Row? Absolutely not. 

The importance in the ruling dished out by the newly minted Supreme Court conservative majority transcends the case itself. It is the first real peek into the future of just how this Supreme Court will be operating for decades to come. But, this minimal glimpse has caused more confusion than anything else. 

With Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s arrival on the bench of the nation’s highest court, many saw an oncoming assault on issues such as abortion rights and LGBTQ+ protections as being more likely than not. What nobody saw coming was the Court’s indifferent attitude toward a religious issue within the context of the state and the power it is responsible for holding. 

Ray is a man who deserves no pity for the crimes he committed, but try your best to put aside whatever contempt you may have for him when considering the procedural injustices that took place as the state carried out his death. This is bigger than Ray. This is about the way in which the new-look, conservative Supreme Court will be putting its ideology into practice. Or rather, the way it will not. 

Amar Wason is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. His column, “Disputed Territory,” runs on alternate Tuesdays. 

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Amar Wason

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