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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Australia: Barrister Julian McMahon is Victoria's nomination for Australian of the Year

Barrister Julian McMahon
Barrister Julian McMahon
Barrister Julian McMahon fought tirelessly to try and save the lives of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and is Victoria's nomination for Australian of the Year.

A fierce opponent of the death penalty and a defender of human rights, he has worked to save the lives of Australians facing the death penalty overseas for the past 13 years.

He studied law in Melbourne and first decided he wanted to become a lawyer while in secondary school in Sydney.

"As a teenager I definitely developed an interest in law watching Rumpole of the Bailey," Mr McMahon told AAP.

His first work on a death penalty case was Van Tuong Nguyen in Singapore in 2002 as a "relatively new and raw barrister with four years experience".

But despite a fight from McMahon and the legal team, and pleas for clemency by the Australian government, Nguyen was executed for drug trafficking.

McMahon has since gone on to represent several death penalty cases involving Australians, including George Forbes in Sudan, who ultimately returned home to Sydney, and Bali Nine members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Since the executions of the pair in April last year, he has presented at the Asian Regional Congress on the Death Penalty in Malaysia and continues to speak out in opposition to the death penalty around the world.

McMahon says the long, drawn-out death penalty cases do take their toll but he just has to "get on with it".

"I would say that lots of people have difficult or demanding jobs and lives, but what I do is nothing compared to lifetime carers of people suffering serious disabilities," he said.

"I just feel embarrassed when people say `you're so amazing', when the fact is I'm doing my work the best I can and it's not as hard as what a lot of people have to do."

If McMahon becomes Australian of the Year, he says he will educate young people on death penalty issues and continue to help society's most marginalised people.

"If I was privileged to get that nomination, I would aim to use it to benefit the most marginalised people in society and the volunteers that help them."

VICTORIAN AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

Julian McMahon. Barrister and human rights advocate and fierce opponent of the death penalty.

SENIOR AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

Jack Charles. Indigenous elder, member of the Stolen Generation, role model and one of Australia's most respected actors.

YOUNG AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

Robert Gillies. A co-founder of Homeless of Melbourne.

AUSTRALIA'S LOCAL HEROES

Rebecca Scott. The founder of STREAT, a social enterprise business model that provides hospitality training for homeless and at risk youth

Source: AAP, January 21, 2016

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