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TX Court Defies Supreme Court, Reinstates Death Sentence

Two years ago, the Supreme Court determined that Terence Andrus, a death row inmate in Texas, received unconstitutionally ineffective legal counsel at his murder trial. On Monday, the Court disregarded this decision — permitting a Texas court that openly defied the Supreme Court’s 2020 opinion to reinstate Andrus’s death sentence, reports The Court’s 2020 decision in Andrus v. Texas explained that Andrus grew up in an abusive household. His mother sold drugs out of their home and engaged in sex work. She was sometimes absent for weeks while she binged on drugs, and she would bring home boyfriends who were physically violent — one of whom raped Andrus’s half-sister as a child. Andrus’s trial counsel presented hardly any evidence that could have humanized him and clarified to jurors that he deserved a sentence other than death. His lawyer’s performance was so deficient that the Court voted 6-3 in 2020 to strike down his death sentence and send the case back to Texas’s highest criminal appeals court to reconsider the case.

It did so using an unusual “summary reversal,” which the Court typically saves for the most outlandish errors by lower courts. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Texas court released a defiant opinion that explicitly contradicted the Supreme Court’s analysis. The Texas court suggested that living through the rape of his half-sister did not significantly affect Andrus because “there was no evidence that [Andrus] suffered sexual abuse himself.” Judge David Newell, a Republican, dissented from the opinion and wrote, “this Court is not free to ‘re-characterize’” evidence that is “contrary to the United States Supreme Court’s holding.” By deciding not to take up Andrus’s case Monday, the Supreme Court effectively blessed the Texas court’s insubordination. On Monday, the High Court's three more liberal members said the Justices should have reviewed the case again. "In view of the egregious nature of the errors ... the overwhelming record evidence, the unparalleled stakes for Andrus, and the importance of protecting and enforcing vertical stare decisis, I would not leave such errors unresolved," wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor.


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