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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…

Reprieve Australia: Abolishing the death penalty "well and truly on track"

Julian McMahon, President of Reprieve Australia
Julian McMahon, defence lawyer for Sukumaran and Chan,
President of Reprieve Australia.
It has been a year since Indonesia executed Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, the leaders of the Bali Nine drug smuggling ring.

Barrister Julian McMahon (LLM 1998) worked as a defence lawyer for Sukumaran and Chan, who were executed by firing squad on Nusa Kambangan island on 29 April 2015.

McMahon, who has been recognised as 2016 Victorian Australian of the Year for his commitment to eradicating the death penalty, believes the case of Sukumaran and Chan led Australia to clarify its position on the world stage.

"As the first ten years of this century have shown, too often different leaders have wavered in that commitment to be opposed to the death penalty in difficult cases," says McMahon.

"Firstly, the case brought home the reality of an impending execution into the lounge rooms of Australia. Secondly, Myuran and Andrew were clearly rehabilitated in a good way. So the case was an easy one for anybody to support."

"Thirdly, we had both a foreign minister and a shadow foreign minister who were able to work closely and coherently together on this issue so Australia presented a very unified voice against a particular set of executions."

This confluence of factors led Australia to state coherently and firmly a clear objection to executions without qualification, something McMahon acknowledges as a vital development.

"In the last couple of years Australia has positioned itself as a country that is firmly against the death penalty internationally and no longer regards it as an issue only to be concerned about when it involves Australian citizens."

In May this year the Federal Government announced a plan to 'gag' Australian Federal Police from sharing intelligence about drug crimes that could lead to a death penalty sentence.

The bipartisan report comes after the AFP was heavily criticised for tipping off Indonesian authorities that led to the arrest of Sukumaran, Chan and other members of the Bali Nine.

It is the latest in a series of measures taken by the Federal Government in light of the executions of Sukumaran and Chan.

In May 2016, Parliament tabled a report on the steps it is taking to eradicate the death penalty worldwide.


Source: Monash University, James Pattison, May 23, 2016

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