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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…

Pope calls for worldwide abolition of death penalty

Pope Francis on Sunday called for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty, saying the commandment "You shall not kill" was absolute and equally valid for the guilty as for the innocent.

Using some of his strongest words ever against capital punishment, he also called on Catholic politicians worldwide to make "a courageous and exemplary gesture" by seeking a moratorium on executions during the Church's current Holy Year, which ends in November.

"I appeal to the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty," he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square.

"The commandment "You shall not kill," has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty," he told the crowd.

The 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church allowed the death penalty in extreme cases for centuries, but the position began to change under the late Pope John Paul, who died in 2005.

The pope added that there was now "a growing opposition to the death penalty even for the legitimate defense of society" because modern means existed to "efficiently repress crime without definitively denying the person who committed it the possibility of rehabilitating themselves."

Francis made the comments to throw his weight behind an international conference against the death penalty starting Monday in Rome and organized by the Sant'Egidio Community, a worldwide Catholic peace and justice group.

Francis, who has visited a number of jails since his election as pope nearly 3 years ago - the latest in Mexico last week - also called for better prison conditions.

"All Christians and men of good will are called on to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve prison conditions so that they respect the human dignity of people who have been deprived of their freedom," he said.

In the past, the pope also denounced life imprisonment, calling it "a hidden death penalty" and saying that more should be done to try to rehabilitate even the most hardened of criminals.

Source: Reuters, Feb. 21, 2016

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