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September 30, 2009

Is the "culture of death" slowly dying at the Supreme Court?

As regular readers know, I have long complained about Supreme Court being caught up in what I called a “culture of death”: a tendency of the Court to devote, in my view, far too much of its scarce judicial time and energy to reviewing death penalty cases and adjudicating the claims of death row defendants.  I synthesized these complaints in an article published last year in Ohio Northern University Law Review based (on a lecture I gave at ONU) titled, "A Capital Waste of Time? Examining the Supreme Court's 'Culture of Death'," which is available at this link. In a coda to that piece, I noted that the Court had recently reduced the number of capital case cert grants, and I speculated that recent changes in personnel might be moving the Court away from its troublesome affinity for obsessing over capital cases.

I return to these issues upon noticing recent posts here and here at Crime & Consequences, in which Kent notes how many capital cases were before the Justices at their "long conference" and in which he subsequently notes that the Court did not have a single capital case in its long list of cert grants today.  More broadly, as detailed in the links on this DPIC page, the Supreme Court had a very light capital docket in the October 2008 Term and this Term so far is also shaping up to be free of any truly significant capital punishment cases (especially after the Court's Troy Davis dodge).

Though it is likely still too early to assert that the Court is  actively moving away from its previous obsession with capital cases, I am inclined to spotlight (and praise) the real possibility that Justices are coming to see that regular and repeated review of capital cases on the merits may do significantly more harm than good.

September 30, 2009 at 05:25 PM | Permalink


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» CSPAN SCOTUS Poll & DP from Crime and Consequences Blog
CSPAN has this poll on the US Supreme Court, taken Sept. 17. Question 11 asks, "Of the following list, which issue or issues do you think the U.S. Supreme Court should deal with more often?" Capital punishment ties for first,... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 1, 2009 4:21:05 PM



Keep your eye on the penalty phase grant of relief from the 3rd Circuit now up on cert in Beard v. Abu-Jamal, No. 08-652. The Warden's petition has been at the Court for over 6 months with no action. Possibly a GVR on the first Monday, possibly simply being held in light of another case granted cert, or possibly the Court is waiting for a cleaner case procedurally to address one of the issues raised by the Warden.

Posted by: .. | Sep 30, 2009 9:04:29 PM

The cult of the death penalty continues in the streets in its full bloom.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 30, 2009 9:18:40 PM

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