The U. S. Supreme Court and the Death Penalty

     Furman v. Georgia is among the oddest Supreme Court cases in American history. Decided in 1972, it struck down every death penalty statute in the nation as then practiced without outlawing the death penalty itself. The ruling, …

     Furman v. Georgia is among the oddest Supreme Court cases in American history. Decided in 1972, it struck down every death penalty statute in the nation as then practiced without outlawing the death penalty itself. The ruling, based on the constitutional protection against "cruel and unusual punishment," stunned even the closest court watchers. The death penalty seemed impregnable. It was part of the bedrock of American's legal system, steeped in the intent of the founders, the will of most state legislatures and the forceful--if occasional--ruling of the courts.

     The 5-4 vote in Furman reflected a striking political split: all five members of the majority were holdovers from the Warren Court, known for its liberal decisions, while all four dissenters were recent appointees of Richard Nixon, who had won the White House with a carefully orchestrated law-and-order campaign. And notably, each justice wrote his own opinion in Furman, meaning there was no common thread to the case, no controlling rationale. The decision ran several hundred pages, the longest handed down by the court at the time....

     About 1,300 people have been executed since [1976] with Texas putting its 503rd prisoner to death just weeks ago. A clear majority continues to support the death penalty, though the fear of wrongful conviction appears to be growing, and evidence suggests that juries welcome the option of life in prison without parole. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has tightened the reins of capital punishment in recent years, ruling that the executions of the mentally retarded, people under 18 and those convicted of rape, even the rape of a child, are unconstitutional. For death penalty abolitionists, however, the promise of Furman must seem a distant, bitter memory.

David Oshinsky in reviewing A Wild Justice by Evan J. Nandery for The New York Times Book Review September 1, 2013

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/