Vol. 42, No. 2

The Death Penalty: How far have we come?

Forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia, the debate over whether application of the death penalty is arbitrary and discriminatory continues.

Today, only a few dozen scattered counties actually impose death sentences, supporting the death penalty’s arbitrariness.

Rather than acting with due diligence and complete transparency to ensure effective and constitutional execution procedures, states are experimenting with drug protocols based on availability and passing secrecy laws to avoid scrutiny.

A review of cases since the U.S. Supreme Court held that per-sons with intellectual disability could not be sentenced to death or executed reveals deeper structural problems with the death penalty as a whole.

In an excerpt from their book, Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment, the authors describe how the South’s practice of capital punishment provided the driving force for the Court’s constitutional intervention.

Although support for the death penalty is in decline, capital commutations are not on the rise. Weak arguments include a perceived political risk, but perhaps a misunderstanding of the significance, role, and rationale of clemency is to blame.

Ten years ago, the ABA and other organizations endorsed the principle that a finding of serious mental illness should preclude the death penalty, a policy now under consideration by several states’ legislatures.

Critical to ensuring fairness when imposing the most severe punishment, judges must recognize implicit bias in themselves and others within the criminal justice system.

PSODP aims to confront concerns about the death penalty and explore alternative ways to achieve a more just public safety system.

Governor Tom Wolf, along with five of his peers, has recognized the widespread problems with the death penalty, standing up for fairness, justice, and accuracy by suspending executions in his state.

Human Rights Magazine


Each of our Section members receives a subscription to Human Rights, our award-winning quarterly magazine. For decades, it has been a trusted source of expert ideas, opinions, and discourse on a diverse array of topics in the human and civil rights arena.

About the Magazine

Published quarterly, Human Rights covers a wide range of topics in the human and civil rights arena. While the subscription is free of charge for Section members, individual subscriptions may be purchased for $18 by calling the American Bar Association Service Center at 1-800-285-2221. Additional annual subscriptions for Section members are $3 each.

If you are a member of the ABA but not the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities then we encourage you to join today. If you are not a member of the ABA then we encourage you to visit the ABA membership page. You can also resolve membership issues by calling 1-800-285-2221.

Please note that all information appears as it did when originally published. Therefore, some biographical information about the authors may no longer be accurate.

Editorial Board

Chair Wilson Adam Schooley

Members
Kristen Galles
Jason Miller
Serena Nowell
Claire Parins
Aram A. Schvey
Jason Sengheiser
Juan Thomas
Penny Wakefield
Stephen J. Wermiel
Alex Wohl

Issue Editors
Wilson Adam Schooley
Misty Thomas
Seth Miller

Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice

Chair Kirke Kickingbird
Chair-elect Robert N. Weiner
Vice-Chair Wilson Adam Schooley
Secretary Sheila Y. Thomas
Finance Officer Toby Graff
Section Delegate Estelle H. Rogers
Section Delegate Walter H. White, Jr.
Immediate Past Chair Lauren Stiller Rikleen
Section Director Tanya N. Terrell
Associate Director Paula Shapiro
Project Director (AIDS) and Director of the ABA Center for Human Rights Michael L. Pates
Project Director (Death Penalty Due Process Review) Misty Thomas
Section Administrator Jaime T. Campbell
Program Assistant Alli Kielsgard

Copyright Information

All articles and information on this page are copyright 2017 by the American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

Request Reprint Permission