The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) today filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to deny Keith Tharpe the ability to appeal his racially-biased death sentence. The brief argues that the taint of racial discrimination in Tharpe’s death sentence is undeniable, and that Tharpe should have the opportunity to challenge his biased punishment in court.

LDF was lead counsel in Buck v. Davis, where the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Duane Buck’s death sentence because his trial counsel knowingly introduced “expert” testimony that Buck was more likely to commit violent crimes in the future because he is Black. In an Opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court reaffirmed the longstanding principle that “[o]ur law punishes people for what they do, not who they are,” and explained that “[d]ispensing punishment on the basis of an immutable characteristic flatly contravenes this guiding principle.”

In Tharpe’s case, one of the jurors signed an affidavit in which he claimed that there are two types of Black people: “good black folks” and “ni**ers.” The juror, Bernard Gattie, suggested that Tharpe belonged in the second category, which shaped Gattie’s decision to vote in favor of a death sentence. Gattie went further in underscoring his clear bigotry by questioning Tharpe’s humanity: “After studying the Bible, I have wondered if Black people even have souls.”

LDF’s brief argues that, similar to Buck, Tharpe was sentenced to death, at least in part, because he is Black, and that his death sentence is therefore unconstitutional.

Read LDF’s brief here.

Read LDF Litigation Director Sam Spital’s op-ed on the case here.

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Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.

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