Policy Letter

Amicus Brief: United States v. Johnson

Update: Corey Johnson was executed on January 14. The full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals came within one vote of granting him a stay, but both it and the Supreme Court ultimately refused to consider his compelling legal claims. We filed an additional amicus brief supporting his challenge at the Supreme Court.

Once again, the federal government is rushing to execute an intellectually disabled man. Corey Johnson is scheduled to die on January 14, and still has not been able to get a court to apply current diagnostic standards to the compelling evidence of his intellectual disability. As we argue in an amicus brief we filed on January 8 with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, going ahead without meaningful judicial review would violate federal law, which prohibits the execution of people who meet current diagnostic standards for intellectual disability.

Last month, we filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing in favor of another intellectually disabled death row inmate who was making a similar appeal. When the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, writing that the case presented “a serious question” and failing to address it “may mean permitting the illegal execution of people with intellectual disabilities.”

On January 12, the three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit rejected Johnson’s appeal. If another court does not step in, Sotomayor’s prediction is at serious risk of coming to fruition.

We are grateful for the pro bono assistance of the law firm Jones Day in preparing the brief.