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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…

Ruth Bader Ginsburg predicts possible end to capital punishment

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The death penalty could be dying, according to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The outspoken liberal icon tackled capital punishment and a host of other hot topics during a sold-out summer George Washington University forum held last week by the Washington Council of Lawyers.

Toward the end of an hour-long talk, Ginsburg fielded a question about the future of capital punishment.

"The only comment I would make is that the incidence of capital punishment has gone down, down, down so that now, I think, there are only three states that actually administer the death penalty," she said.

"And not even whole states, but particular areas of states. It may depend on who's the district attorney."

Though she didn't actually mention Harris County by name, it easily may have been one of the areas that first sprung to mind for the 84-year-old justice.

Houston and its surroundings have long been seen as the capital of capital punishment, a standout even in a state with a longstanding enthusiasm for execution. For 21 years, one zealous and legendary district attorney - John Holmes Jr. - pursued the death penalty with a vigor unmatched almost anywhere else.

But the end of Holmes' tenure came in 2000, the same year capital punishment peaked in Texas. 

Although the Lone Star State kept Huntsville's death chamber busy with 40 executions that year, last year saw a 20-year low.

In Texas and across the nation, state-sanctioned deaths have declined in light of legal uncertainties, moratoriums, and lethal injection drug shortages. For Ginsburg, the writing's on the wall.

"We may see an end to capital punishment by attrition as there are fewer and fewer executions," Ginsburg declared.

Source: Houston Chronicle, Keri Blakinger, August 2, 2017

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