Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas rejected a decision to urge a lower court to hold another trial for Keith Tharpe, a Black death row inmate in Georgia who was sentenced in 1991 after a murder conviction.
Tharpe’s execution was blocked in September after a White juror’s racist comments about him came to light, USA Today reported. The Supreme Court voted 6-3 on Monday for the death row prisoner to have another chance in court to prove that his death sentence ruling was tainted by racial hatred. Tharpe was convicted of the death of Jaquelin Freeman, a Black woman.
Thomas, the court’s only Black justice, along with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito, disagreed with the court’s reprieve. The decision to delay’s Tharpe’s death was no more than “ceremonial handwringing” and “a useless do-over,” Clarence wrote in a 13-page dissent, according to the SCOTUS blog. “The court must be disturbed by the racist rhetoric in that affidavit, and must want to do something about it,” Thomas wrote. “But the court’s decision is no profile in moral courage.”
Juror Barney Gattiein had referred to Tharpe as the N-word and other slurs, having said “I have wondered if black people even have souls” in a sworn affidavit, USA Today reported.
The hateful remarks were enough to push the court to throw a lifeline to Tharpe, a rare chance for another trial with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. “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 court ruled.
Justices acknowledged Tharpe would still be fighting an uphill battle. Evidence of racial bias has been a sore subject for courts in the criminal justice system, with black defendants often ending up with no protection. Thomas’ dissent in Tharpe’s case presented another mark against the controversial justice, several people pointed out on Twitter.