Document Type



Judge William E. Miller Prize (B. Ackerman, A. Amar, D. Days) (For the best paper concerning the Bill of Rights.) and Joseph Parker Prize (J. Langbein, J. Whitman, J. Witt) (Best paper on a subject connected with legal history or Roman law) and Michael Egger Prize (Best student Note or Comment on current social problems, on recommendation to the Dean by the Board of Officers of the Journal)


When the Eighth Amendment was ratified, common law protections categorically prohibited the execution of “idiots.” On two occasions, the Supreme Court considered whether these protections proscribe executing people with intellectual disabilities; however, the Court concluded that idiocy protections shielded only the “profoundly or severely mentally retarded.” This Note argues that the Court’s historical analysis of idiocy protections was unduly narrow. It then proceeds to reassess common law insanity protections for idiots and finds strong evidence that these protections included people with a relatively wide range of intellectual disabilities. Based on this new historical account, this Note argues that there are people with intellectual disabilities on death row today who likely would have been protected from execution in 1791.

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