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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…

Dalits and Muslims: India’s favourites for the death penalty

India's Supreme Court
India's Supreme Court
A study that will be published later this year by the National Law University shows that 75 per cent of all death sentences and 93.5 per cent of all death sentences for terrorism were given to dalits and Muslims. The obvious issue here is that of prejudice. The government shows no signs of acting strongly when upper-caste Hindus commit acts of terrorism, as the case of bombings in Malegaon shows. And there is no hurry to hang the killer of Beant Singh, while Rajiv Gandhi’s killers have had their death sentences commuted. They had also been convicted of terrorism, but not all of us are judged by the same rules. Let us leave aside the others like Mayaben Kodnani, convicted of murdering 95 Gujaratis and not even in jail.

The second issue is that of economics.

Dalit and Muslim are also synonyms for ‘poor’. Afzal Guru got almost no legal representation in the trial court stage. Given the reality, it should not surprise us that dalits and Muslims and their supporters are protesting against the government. They have every right to and are justifiably upset. They are seen as out of control and unbalanced, but they are arguing on fact. It is the BJP MPs who keep shooting off letters to Smriti Irani, demanding firm action against those who are acting on emotion.

The prime minister’s response to this has been to accuse the opposition of invention and lies. But the facts are absolutely clear on the ground. Dalits are getting a voice and are standing up for their rights. There is nothing wrong with that and if they use intemperate language, they should not be treated as criminals. It is important the Indian government engage them, and listen to their argument, not only their slogans.


Source: The Express Tribune, Opinion by Aakar Patel, February 14th, 2016

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