Supreme Court no longer using term "mental retardation"

US Supreme Court

A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court which clarifies what constitutes intellectual disability in legal terms also shows that the Court is stepping away from the antiquated term "mental retardation."

In its decision in the case Hall v. Florida last month, the Supreme Court specifically cited the old term and replaced it with the new one. At issue was the case of Freddie Lee Hall, a convicted murdered who was sentenced to death despite having IQ scores ranging from 60 to 80.

"Previous opinions of this court have employed the term 'mental retardation.' This opinion uses the term 'intellectual disability' to describe the identical phenomenon," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

Kennedy cited both the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as well as a 2010 act commonly referred to as "Rosa's Law" which requires federal health, education and labor policy to use the term "intellectual disability" rather than "mental retardation" and striking the term "mentally retarded."

Advocates for the change in terms have been working to amend official terminology for over two decades. The Special Olympics campaign "Spread the Word to End the Word" has been the most publicized of these public outreach campaigns to remove the word "retarded" and "retardation" from the vernacular.

 
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