By Matt Kelley, who writes about prisoners' rights and criminal justice reform issues at change.org, where this piece was initially published. He also works as the Online Communications Manager at the Innocence Project. Views expressed here are his own and do not represent any organization.
In an extremely rare move for the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices yesterday issued an order directing a federal judge to hold an evidentiary hearing in the case of Troy Anthony Davis, who has sat on Georgia's death row for nearly two decades for a crime he says he didn't commit. A pile of convincing evidence suggests that Davis is indeed innocent, and the court's move points to the strength of this evidence.
This decision also confirms that Davis' attorneys - and the army of activists who have worked tirelessly on his behalf - are making themselves heard. The justices don't live in a vacuum, and at least six of them found yesterday that allowing a man to be executed before possible evidence of his innocence is fully considered would be a grave injustice and a violation of due process.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were the lone dissenters, and new justice Sonia Sotomayor didn't participate. Scalia wrote a frightening dissent suggesting that he may consider the execution of an innocent person completely constitutional.
He wrote: "This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually' innocent." That's a scary sentence. But let's focus on the positive for a moment: