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August 1, 2017

Should Justice Ginsburg be accused of propagating "fake news" about the death penalty?

The somewhat tounge-and-cheek question in the title of this post is prompted by a short passage in this New York Times article by Adam Liptak discussing some recent public comments by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Here is that passage:

Justice Ginsburg spoke at George Washington University Law School, at an event sponsored by the Washington Council of Lawyers, a bar association. Asked about the future of the death penalty in the United States, Justice Ginsburg did not mention a 2015 dissent in which she and Justice Stephen G. Breyer had called for a fresh look at the constitutionality of the practice.  But she said capital punishment may soon be extinct in any event.

“The incidence of capital punishment has gone down, down, down so that now, I think, there are only three states that actually administer the death penalty,” she said.  “We may see an end to capital punishment by attrition as there are fewer and fewer executions.”

The number of executions has indeed fallen sharply, with only 20 carried out in 2016, the smallest number in decades.  But seven states have executed condemned inmates this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

In addition to 7 states completing executions in 2017, the DPIC reports here that 13 states imposed death sentences in 2016.  I certainly consider the imposition of death sentences to be another aspect of "actually administering the death penalty," and one might also note that more than 30 jurisdictions in the US have persons sitting on death row.  So, in various ways, the suggesting that only a few states still use the death penalty is really not quite right.

Moreover, and arguably ever more important for Justice Ginsburg's comments here, three states had voters in 2016 reaffirm a committment to having an operational system of capital punishment.  Initiatives votes in favor of the death penalty in Oklahoma, Nebraska and especially California all run counter to the suggestion that we may soon see "an end to capital punishment by attrition."

That all said, there is no doubt that the use and importance of the death penalty diminished considerably in recent decades, both politically and pratically.  I find particularly notable, for example, that neither Prez Trump nor AG Sessions has promoted greater us of the death penalty in their "law-and-order" rhetoric or in policy proposals.  But that reality does not lead me to expect to see the end of executions or death sentencings anytime soon. 

August 1, 2017 at 05:48 AM | Permalink


getting Gorsuch on the Court helped.

Ginsburg's fake news extends to her judicial opinions---high school science experiment---what a joke.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 1, 2017 7:59:29 AM

She said "may" and "any time soon" is a gloss. When the chance of that happened was repeated raised on this blog, I continuously said I am not holding my breath. There continues to be a societal desire to execute a small number in a modified "The Lottery."

"Administer" very well might mean "actually execute" and the very small number of actual executions as to those sentenced to die is notable there. As noted, the numbers did go down. Nebraska isn't going to notably add much there. Let's see how much CA actually executes people. Oklahoma might matter more if it manages to get back on track.

Her off the cuff "think" comment was off as to number though she might be thinking of states who executed more than one person this year (Texas, Arkansas and Alabama). VA had two actually, so that's a fourth, but one was just earlier in the month. So, I can understand her error there.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 1, 2017 10:19:30 AM

Why would anybody believe any comment by a member of the US Supreme Court? They live in an alternate netherworld of their own legal delusion.

Posted by: albeed | Aug 1, 2017 1:33:31 PM

Joe to the rescue of Ginsburg. Ha ha ha ha ha.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 1, 2017 3:41:19 PM

"I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown?"


Posted by: Joe | Aug 1, 2017 4:12:06 PM

Leave Justice Ginsburg alone. Stop picking on her chemo brain. The Congress should impeach all the Justices every 5 years. To deter.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 1, 2017 9:50:34 PM

Equity Ginsburg talked at George Washington University Law School, at an occasion supported by the Washington Council of Lawyers, a bar affiliation. Gotten some information about the eventual fate of capital punishment in the United States, Justice Ginsburg did not specify a 2015 difference in which she and Justice Stephen G. Breyer had required a new take a gander at the legality of the training. In any case, she said the death penalty may soon be terminated in any occasion.

Posted by: wayne parnel | Aug 3, 2017 3:39:55 AM

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