Philosophers: Consider Signing Amicus Brief on Insanity Defense


“Does a state’s abolition of the insanity defense comport with fundamental principles of justice and pluralist toleration?” That is the question taken up in an amicus curiae brief by Gideon Yaffe, professor of philosophy and law at Yale University, in regards to Kahler v. Kansas, a case the Supreme Court will be hearing.

In a message posted at Pea Soup by David Shoemaker (Tulane), Professor Yaffe writes:

I’m writing to ask for your signature on this amicus brief which concerns Kahler v. Kansas, a case that the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear.  The state of Kansas abolished the insanity defense.  Mr. Kahler, who is severely mentally ill, murdered his family and was convicted at trial after being barred from offering an insanity defense.  The question is whether the Constitution requires a state to offer one.

I was asked by the Northwestern Supreme Court clinic to write a short amicus brief on behalf of philosophers arguing, as I believe, that basic principles of justice require that criminal defendants be given an opportunity to defend themselves through an insanity defense.  I am hoping that you will agree to sign the brief.  Law professors with significant background or interest in philosophy are also encouraged to sign.

Time is too short to revise the brief at this stage, unfortunately.  It is intended as a consensus document, and so it is intended to abstract away from disagreements about the nature of moral or criminal responsibility, and about disagreements about what liberal toleration requires.  My hope is that we can all agree that sanity is a precondition of criminal responsibility and that toleration does not require us to accept a state’s judgement to the contrary.

Here’s the summary of the argument in the brief:

You can read the entire brief here.

Professor Yaffe requests signatures before Friday, May 31st. He says:

If you are willing to sign, please reply or send a brief email to [email protected] expressing your willingness to sign and including two sentences describing yourself of the form “[Your Name] is [title] at [Your university].  She has published extensively about [e.g. moral responsibility and blame].” 


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