October 7, 2019
The Supreme Court opens its 2019-20 term today, and there will be no lack of cases for the legal cognoscenti to discuss over the next several months. And, in all likelihood, several cases will remind people that, as I say every four years, the single most important issue in any Presidential election is Supreme Court nominations. Since no one believes me, I often feel ike the mythical figure Cassandra (who was gifted with the power to predict the future, but no one believed her).
One of the most tantalizing cases from a purely legal perspective may be that of the appeal of James Kraig Kahler.
Kahler was convicted of murdering his wife, his mother-in-law and three of his four children. At trial, the defense introduced expert testimony that his mental condition had become “severely degraded so that he couldn’t refrain from doing what he did.” The state offered its own expert, who testified that Kahler was mentally ill but was fully capable of forming the intention to kill. The defense asked the judge to instruct the jury to consider insanity as an affirmative defense; the judge refused because Kansas previously passed a law eliminating the insanity defense. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
After the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, he sought review before the U.S. Supreme Court, presenting the question: “Do the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments permit a state to abolish the insanity defense?”
The Supreme Court has never considered the question.
I’m no Nostradamus (even if, as I say, on occasion I feel like Cassandra), but I’ll bet, whichever way the decision goes, it will be by a vote of 5-4.