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December 20, 2010

"Search for guidelines on death penalty cases continues to consume justices' time"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article in today's Washington Post.  Here are some excerpts:

When the Supreme Court hands down a list of the (few) cases it has picked for its docket and the (many) petitions it has rejected, it sometimes is accompanied by a commentary from one or more of the justices.  More often than not, the subject is the death penalty.

Even as the number of executions falls and the death sentences handed out decrease, the court still spends a remarkable amount of its time deciding whether someone receives the ultimate punishment.  Or at least deciding when other judges have made the right decision.

The court's decision to deny certiorari and leave the ruling of the lower court in place draws complaints from both ends of the bench.  Liberals complain that lower courts are ignoring the justices' increasingly complex and exacting standards on what must happen before someone is executed in America.  Conservative justices complain that the lower courts ignore Congress's attempts to make sure death sentences that are imposed properly are actually carried out....

A recent essay in the New York Review of Books by retired justice John Paul Stevens reiterated his statement two years ago on "the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes."

It has brought new criticism both of the court's jurisprudence and its preoccupation with capital punishment — and Stevens's role in creating whatever confusion exists.  But the work of the court will go on — the search for apparently elusive rules and regulations that identify who deserves the death penalty and who does not.

December 20, 2010 at 08:30 AM | Permalink

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