Former Supreme Court Justice Explains Change of Heart

In an interview with The New York Times, Justice John Paul Stevens explains why he reversed his 1976 pro-death penalty position late in his career. An excerpt:

“The essay is actually a review of the book “Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition,” by David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University. The book compares American and European approaches to the death penalty, and Justice Stevens appears to accept its major conclusions.

“Professor Garland attributes American enthusiasm for capital punishment to politics and a cultural fascination with violence and death.

“In discussing the book, Justice Stevens defended the promise of the Supreme Court’s 1976 decisions reinstating the death penalty even as he detailed the ways in which he said that promise had been betrayed.

“With the right procedural safeguards, Justice Stevens wrote, it would be possible to isolate the extremely serious crimes for which death is warranted. But he said the Supreme Court had instead systematically dismantled those safeguards.

“Justice Stevens said the court took wrong turns in deciding how juries in death penalty cases are chosen and what evidence they may hear, in not looking closely enough at racial disparities in the capital justice system, and in failing to police the role politics can play in decisions to seek and impose the death penalty.”

For more, click here.

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