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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…

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Two Major Death Penalty Cases

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two cases raising major questions about the death penalty, including whether executing a condemned inmate more than 35 years after he was sentenced to death violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

That case, Moore v. Texas, No. 15-797, concerns Bobby J. Moore, who has been on death row since 1980 for shooting and killing an elderly Houston supermarket clerk, James McCarble, during a robbery. 

Mr. Moore’s case also raises questions about whether Texas uses outdated standards in assessing whether a defendant’s intellectual disability was severe enough to bar his execution.

The second case, Buck v. Stephens, No. 15-8049, concerns the role race may play in capital sentencing. 

Duane Buck was convicted of the 1995 murders of a former girlfriend and another man. Texas law allows death sentences only if prosecutors can show the defendant poses a future danger to society.

During the trial’s sentencing phase, Mr. Buck’s lawyer presented testimony from a psychologist who said that race is one of the factors associated with future dangerousness. I

n their petition seeking Supreme Court review, Mr. Buck’s new lawyers said his trial lawyer had been ineffective and that Mr. Buck’s death sentence was infected by racial bias.

Source: The New York Times, Adam Liptak, June 6, 2016

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