By siding with the Supreme Court’s liberal wing on Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. saved the life of an Alabama death row inmate for now. But Roberts may have taken that step primarily to teach Alabama and its courts a lesson.

Ruling in Madison v. Alabama, the court returned the case of Vernon Madison back to the Alabama courts to reconsider his mental competency under a Supreme Court standard that the state court appears to have ignored or misunderstood.

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