Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito broke a tie today to support a high court ruling that Kansas’ death penalty law is constitutional, the Associated Press reports. By a 5-to-4 vote, the justices said the Kansas Supreme Court incorrectly interpreted the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment to strike down the state’s death penalty statute. The Kansas court said the state improperly forced jurors to impose a capital sentence even if they believed that the prosecution and defense evidence were equal in weight.
Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas disputed critics’ argument that the law created “a general presumption in favor of the death penalty in the state of Kansas.” Fifteen states filed briefs, predicting that a ruling that upheld the Kansas court would have required states with capital punishment to set up systems for juries to weigh evidence at sentencing. In a dissent, Justice David Souter said that “in the face of evidence of the hazards of capital prosecution,” a system like the one in Kansas “is obtuse by any moral or social measure.”