Huffpost Politics

Supreme Court Finally Takes Big Step In Putting An End To The 'R Word'

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SUPREME COURT
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 27: The United States Supreme Court announced a ruling in the case Hall v. Florida, finding that the state had adopted too rigid a cutoff in deciding who is eligible to be spared the death penalty because of intellectual disabilities, May 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. There are 10 major case decisions yet to be announced by the Supreme Court, including a ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, and just five announcement days on the | Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

A recent Supreme Court ruling may only help a few inmates on death row, but the wording of the decision could have an immeasurable impact on anyone with intellectual disabilities.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided on May 27 that states can no longer rely on a simple IQ test to determine if an inmate can be put to death or not.

The Hall v. Florida case struck down Florida’s hard and fast approach to execution.

In the past, if an inmate in Florida scored a 70 or below on an IQ test, that person could be deemed ineligible to be executed. But if someone on death row scored a 71 or higher, that prisoner could be put to death, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The court’s decision now requires states to consider the exam's margin of error and to give the inmate the opportunity to show if he or she could adapt to the requirements of daily life, CS Monitor reported.

This ruling may only help a relatively few number of inmates -- it’s likely that it will aid just two of the eight death row inmates in Virginia, for example, according to The Washington Post. But it was the wording of the ruling that could have a sweeping effect.

"Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

It wasn’t just the decision that advocates lauded, it was Kennedy's shunning of archaic terminology.

"Previous opinions of this Court have employed the term 'mental retardation,'" he wrote. "This opinion uses the term 'intellectual disability' to describe the identical phenomenon."

For those fighting for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, such a shift in language marks monumental progress that can be so easily achieved.

"Using more neutral terminology to describe a person with [intellectual disabilities], when they need to be described at all, is just one more way to respect them," wrote blogger Ellen Seidman who chronicles life raising a child with special needs. "Not the only way, of course, just one. An easy one."

Advocates continue to raise awareness about the hurt that is involved with using the word "retarded" in the hopes of encouraging people to stop using the word pejoratively and to cease using it in medical, legal and educational settings. The Special Olympics launched the "Spread the Word to End the Word" initiative in 2008 and has gained significant footing in its mission.

"Why am I hurt when I hear 'retard?'" John Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics global ambassador, wrote in a blog for HuffPost. "Let's face it, nobody uses the word as a term of praise. At best, it is used as another way of saying 'stupid' or 'loser.' At worst, it is aimed directly at me as a way to label me as an outcast -- a thing, not a person. I am not stupid. I am not a loser. I am not a thing. I am a person."

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