Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishmentby Carol S. Steiker, Jordan M. Steiker
Unique among Western democracies in refusing to eradicate the death penalty, the United States has attempted instead to reform and rationalize state death penalty practices through federal constitutional law. Courting Death traces the unusual and distinctive history of top-down judicial regulation of capital punishment under the Constitution and its/i>
Unique among Western democracies in refusing to eradicate the death penalty, the United States has attempted instead to reform and rationalize state death penalty practices through federal constitutional law. Courting Death traces the unusual and distinctive history of top-down judicial regulation of capital punishment under the Constitution and its unanticipated consequences for our time.
In the 1960s and 1970s, in the face of widespread abolition of the death penalty around the world, provisions for capital punishment that had long fallen under the purview of the states were challenged in federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened in two landmark decisions, first by constitutionally invalidating the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia (1972) on the grounds that it was capricious and discriminatory, followed four years later by restoring it in Gregg v. Georgia (1976). Since then, by neither retaining capital punishment in unfettered form nor abolishing it outright, the Supreme Court has created a complex regulatory apparatus that has brought executions in many states to a halt, while also failing to address the problems that led the Court to intervene in the first place.
While execution chambers remain active in several states, constitutional regulation has contributed to the death penalty’s new fragility. In the next decade or two, Carol Steiker and Jordan Steiker argue, the fate of the American death penalty is likely to be sealed by this failed judicial experiment. Courting Death illuminates both the promise and pitfalls of constitutional regulation of contentious social issues.
Carol (Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law, Harvard Univ. Law Sch.) and Jordan Steiker's (Judge Robert M. Parker Endowed Chair in Law, Univ. of Texas Sch. of Law) extensively researched book about the Supreme Court and the death penalty argues that the court's approach to such cases has made the law unsustainable. By examining the history of capital punishment in the United States and the cultural, racial, and socioeconomic differences in its application, the authors show that these cases are often delayed for years by the justice system. In addition, ethical questions about methods of execution and questions about wrongful convictions have led to further delays and questions about the ethics of the death penalty itself. The costs of capital cases and the way they have strained the states' indigent defense budgets are also factors in the authors' argument and one of the most interesting parts of the book. VERDICT This thought-provoking work explores a timely topic. Law and social work students and those with a serious interest in the death penalty will want to read it. Recommended for academic and law libraries.—Becky Kennedy, Atlanta-Fulton P.L.
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Meet the Author
Carol S. Steiker is Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
Jordan M. Steiker is Judge Robert M. Parker Endowed Chair in Law at the University of Texas School of Law.
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