SCOTUS Blocks Execution in Georgia Over a Juror’s Racial Bias

Racial bias of a juror who questioned whether black people have souls led the U.S. SupremeCourt on Monday morning to block the execution of a Georgia man.

The highest court issued a two-and-a-half page per curiam order Monday, returning the case of convicted killer Keith Tharpe to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, wrote a 13-page dissent, reasoning that Tharpe is going to die anyway. Thomas, a Georgia native, said that Tharpe could not prove that bias affected the jury’s decision to approve the death penalty.

“One might wonder why the court engages in this pointless exercise,” Thomas wrote. “The only possible explanation is its concern with the ‘unusual facts’ of this case, specifically a juror affidavit that expresses racist opinions about blacks. The opinions in the affidavit are certainly odious. But their odiousness does not excuse us from doing our job correctly, or allow us to pretend that the lower courts have not done theirs.”

The odious opinion came from a white juror named Barney Gattie, who has since died. This is what the court majority opinion said about that juror: “Tharpe produced a sworn affidavit, signed by Gattie, indicating Gattie’s view that ‘there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. Niggers’; that Tharpe, ‘who wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did’; that ‘[s]ome of the jurors voted for death because they felt Tharpe should be an example to other blacks who kill blacks, but that wasn’t my reason’; and that, ‘[a]fter studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls.’”

The majority reversed the Eleventh Circuit’s denial of Tharpe’s motion to reopen his federal habeas corpus proceeding based on that juror’s bias.

“Gattie’s remarkable affidavit—which he never retracted—presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe’s race affected Gattie’s vote for a death verdict,” the majority ruled. “At the very least, jurists of reason could debate whether Tharpe has shown by clear and convincing evidence that the state court’s factual determination was wrong. The Eleventh Circuit erred when it concluded otherwise.”