A judge shouldn't be allowed to vote in a case involving a capital sentence when he was formerly the prosecutor who sought the death penalty in the same case. That sounds obvious, and the Supreme Court said so on Thursday.
But three justices dissented, suggesting that the answer might not have been obvious after all. The dissents show how deeply divided the court really is over the death penalty - and how far the conservative justices are prepared to go in its defense.
The facts of the case go back to 1984, when Terence Williams, who had just turned 18, participated in the beating and murder of Amos Norwood, 56, in Philadelphia. The prosecutor in Williams's case wanted to seek the death penalty, and asked approval from the Philadelphia district attorney, Ronald Castille. Castille approved in 1986, writing on the letter of request, "Approved to proceed on the death penalty."