The Supreme Court- And The Death Penalty

There is an article on CNN in which Justice Stevens offers a brief comment about his views regarding the death penalty. By way of introduction I present this:

“CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) — Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens steered the debate over President Bush’s nominee to a new subject — capital punishment — sharply condemning the country’s death penalty system.

The court has been closely divided in death row cases, with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor often in the middle.

President Bush’s choice to replace her, John Roberts, has a limited track record. Roberts, 50, showed little sympathy for prisoner appeals as a government lawyer in the Reagan administration, but later did free legal work for a death row inmate.

In a February 1983 memo while serving in the Reagan White House, Roberts suggested that the high court could cut its caseload by “abdicating the role of fourth or fifth guesser in death penalty cases.”

Stevens used a weekend speech to the American Bar Association to underscore the matter’s prominence at the court, noting evidence of “serious flaws.”

His remarks provide the first sign of internal dismay over the retirement of O’Connor, a 75-year-old pragmatist who has been a key voter in affirmative action, abortion rights and the death penalty.”

I find much of this to be interesting because we do not often hear/read about the internal machinations of the court. I also find this next selection to be very interesting.

“Stevens has evolved into the Supreme Court’s most liberal member, in the 30 years since his nomination by Republican President Ford.

Another justice who made a similar transformation was Harry A. Blackmun, who months before his 1994 retirement declared: “I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” Blackmun was nominated by President Nixon, another Repbulican.

Stevens, who at 85 is the oldest justice, has given no hints that he will retire soon. A Stevens retirement while Republicans control the White House and Senate would likely dramatically reshape the court.”

What we see are more examples of the uncertainty that is involved in selecting a justice. You really do not know which direction they will go until they are seated on the bench.

“Other Supreme Court justices, including O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have also spoken out about concerns that defendants in murder cases are not adequately represented at trial.

But Stevens told the ABA that the problems were more dramatic.

He said the jury selection process and the fact that many trial judges are elected work against accused murderers. He also said that jurors might be improperly swayed by victim-impact statements.

Stevens was speaking in Illinois, his home state and a place that has been roiled by controversy over the death penalty. In 2000, wrongful convictions led then-Gov. George Ryan to halt all executions.

It also came just a day after a Virginia jury decided against the inmate whose case led to a 2002 Supreme Court ban on executing the mentally retarded. The jury said Daryl Atkins was mentally competent and could be put to death.

Stevens wrote that 2002 Atkins decision, which was joined by O’Connor. One of the three dissenters was Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who hired Roberts as a law clerk in 1980.

A year later, as a Justice Department lawyer, Roberts wrote in a memo that the availability of federal court appeals, “particularly for state prisoners, goes far to making a mockery of the entire criminal justice system.”

Stevens, however, laid out the case for close review of appeals, pointing to “special risks of unfairness” in capital punishment.”

(Visited 92 times, 1 visits today)


  1. Z August 9, 2005 at 1:20 pm

    I am heartily AGAINST the death penalty. I used to be very for it but as I get older and see more and more abuse of the system…ie. ONLY death=justice I think it’s really just a panacea meant to make everyone ELSE feel their vengeance. I reckon G-d didn’t kill Cain…who are we to kill anyone unless we’re 100% sure…and in most cases, how could we ever be?

  2. Jack's Shack August 9, 2005 at 5:08 am

    Hi Lejend,

    Makes sense to me.

  3. Stacey August 8, 2005 at 7:08 pm

    I agree with you, Lejnd.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You may also like