Tag Archives: Death Penalty
Should Prosecutors Worry About Having Jewish People on Capital Juries?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the systematic exclusion of Jewish people from death penalty juries in Alameda County, California, and explores Jewish perspectives on capital punishment. Professor Sarat argues that while Jewish religious texts mention capital punishment, rabbinical interpretations and Jewish history have made many Jews wary of the death penalty, and the discriminatory practices in Alameda County highlight the need to end capital punishment altogether.

Death Penalty States Beware: Nitrogen Hypoxia Is Not the Solution to America’s Long History of Inhumane Executions

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the recent adoption of nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution in several U.S. states, focusing on Alabama’s recent executions and other states considering or implementing this method. Professor Sarat argues that, despite proponents’ claims, nitrogen hypoxia is not a humane or problem-free method of execution, but instead echoes the unfulfilled promises made about previous execution methods like electrocution, gas chambers, and lethal injection.

What Oklahoma Did to Clayton Lockett Ten Years Ago Changed the National Conversation About Botched Executions

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in 2014 and how it marked a turning point in the public perception of capital punishment. Professor Sarat argues that the repeated failures and mistakes in the death penalty system, exemplified by Lockett’s execution and the disproportionate impact on Black individuals, have undermined the moral justification for capital punishment and strengthened the case for abolition.

Black People Pay a High Price for this Country’s Illusory Pursuit of Humane Executions

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the history of execution methods in the United States and the recent findings from a Reprieve report showing that lethal injection executions of Black inmates are botched at a much higher rate than those of White inmates. Professor Sarat argues that this racial disparity in botched executions is unsurprising given the pervasive racist stereotypes and unequal treatment of Black bodies throughout American society, from schools to policing to healthcare, and reflects the illusory nature of the quest for a humane execution method.

The Cruelty of Punishment Without Purpose

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the recent execution of Brian Dorsey by the state of Missouri and explores the question whether executing a rehabilitated prisoner violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Professor Sarat argues that Dorsey’s execution served no legitimate penological purpose because he had been successfully rehabilitated during his time in prison, and therefore his execution amounted to cruel punishment without a justifiable purpose.

Judges, Heretics, and Capital Punishment

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies comments on Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s request to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to slow down the pace of executions and Judge Gary Lumpkin’s critical response to that request. Professor Margulies suggests that Judge Lumpkin’s hostility towards Drummond’s motion is not merely due to moral insensitivity, but is an ideological attempt to admonish Drummond for perceived deviation from the staunchly pro-death penalty stance expected of his office, exemplifying the “black sheep effect” of harshly policing in-group boundaries.

California Prosecutor Seeks Sentence Reductions for Death Row Inmates. Other Prosecutors Should Follow Suit

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the recent unprecedented request by Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen to resentence all death row inmates from his county, highlighting the critical role prosecutors play as gatekeepers in the death penalty system. Professor Sarat argues that Rosen’s actions, driven by concerns about racial bias and changing attitudes towards capital punishment, serve as an important example for other prosecutors to follow in order to right past wrongs and ensure justice is upheld, regardless of how much time has passed.

Georgia Court Case Tests the Limits of Execution Secrecy in the United States

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses Georgia’s plan to execute Willie James Pye on March 20, 2023, and the state’s efforts to restrict press access and impose secrecy around the execution process. Professor Sarat argues that Georgia’s lethal injection protocol, which severely limits what the press can witness and the public can know about executions, is unlawful and arbitrary, serving no legitimate state interest, and that the court should grant the request to stop executions until the restrictions on press access are removed.

The Execution of Ivan Cantu Is a Reminder of Why We Execute the Innocent and Always Will

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the execution of Ivan Cantu in Texas, using it as a case study to explore the broader issue of innocent individuals being executed in the United States. Professor Sarat argues that the continued use of the death penalty inevitably leads to the execution of innocent people, underscoring the urgent need to abolish capital punishment to prevent such irreversible injustices.

Another Botched Lethal Injection, Another Official Refusal to Accept Responsibility for Failure in the Execution Process

Amherst professor Austin Sarat examines the recent failed execution attempt of Thomas Eugene Creech in Idaho, highlighting lethal injection’s history of unreliability and the broader context of its use as an execution method in the United States. Professor Sarat argues that systemic issues and denial by state officials perpetuate the cruelty and inefficiency of lethal injections, urging an acknowledgment of its failures and a cessation of its use for capital punishment.

The Gas Chamber, 100 Years of Cruelty

Amherst professor Austin Sarat reflects on the 100-year history of gas chamber executions in the United States, highlighting the method’s failure to provide a humane and reliable form of capital punishment despite initial claims, and marking the recent revival of its use in Alabama as a continuation of this problematic legacy. Professor Sarat details the origins and implementation of gas chambers, including the first execution of Gee Jon in Nevada and the various adaptations states made over the years, culminating in a critique of lethal gas as an inhumane method that has consistently resulted in torture and botched executions.

Oklahoma’s New Execution Plan Highlights the Magnitude of America’s Death Penalty Problems

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the proposal by Oklahoma’s Attorney General and the Director of the Department of Corrections to execute execute six individuals with 90-day intervals between each, in a purported effort to address operational and mental health strains on execution team members. Professor Sarat points out that this plan fails to address deeper injustices within the death penalty system, not the least of which is the significant toll on those involved in executions, as well as the systemic issues of unfair trials and racial bias affecting death row inmates.

Should Death Penalty Abolitionists Try to Make the Death Penalty More Humane?

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf discusses the recent execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama, questioning the humanity of this method and comparing it unfavorably to other methods like lethal injection and electrocution. Professor Dorf delves into the complexities of the death penalty, including the constitutional implications, the effectiveness of alternative execution methods, and the ethical dilemmas facing death penalty abolitionists and pharmaceutical companies regarding the provision of more humane execution drugs.

Another New Execution Method, Another Botched Execution

Amherst professor Austin Sarat laments the continued occurrence of botched executions in the United States, focusing on the recent introduction of nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama, which resulted in another failed attempt. Professor Sarat describes the disturbing details of Kenneth Smith’s execution, where the promise of a quick and painless death by nitrogen hypoxia was broken, leading to a prolonged and torturous process, thus adding to the history of failed executions with new methods in the United States.

The Supreme Court Should Use the Richard Glossip Case To Say That the Constitution Forbids Executing the Innocent

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that the Supreme Court should use the case of Richard Glossip, a death row inmate who claims actual innocence, to declare that the Constitution forbids executing the innocent. Professor Sarat points out the various procedural problems and prosecutorial misconduct in Glossip’s case, as well as the Supreme Court’s precedents on actual innocence claims—which support his argument for addressing this fundamental issue of justice.

The Supreme Court Gets a New Opportunity to Oppose Racism in America’s Death Penalty

Amherst professor Austin Sarat argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should grant review in Warren King’s death penalty case, which epitomizes the persistent racial biases in jury selection, especially in death penalty cases. Professor Sarat emphasizes the significance of the Batson v. Kentucky decision against race-based juror exclusion, critiques its inadequate enforcement, and argues that King’s case, marked by discriminatory jury selection, offers the Court a crucial opportunity to reinforce Batson and address racial prejudice in the legal system.

The Road Not Taken: In 2023 Two Death Penalty States Offer Americans a Clear Choice

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the divergent paths of Florida and Ohio with respect to capital punishment in those states. Professor Sarat argues that it is time for America to make up its mind on the death penalty and either follow Ohio’s path toward a future without capital punishment, bringing this country into line with the community of nations, or else follow Florida’s example by expanding death sentences and executions.

Utah Judge Clears the Way for the First Firing Squad Execution in More Than a Decade

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the case of Ralph Leroy Menzies, who has been on Utah’s death row for 35 years and holds conflicting views on his execution: he insists on being executed by firing squad, yet argues that this method constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under Utah’s constitution. Professor Sarat discusses Utah District Judge Coral Sanchez’s ruling that the state could proceed with the execution by firing squad, dismissing Menzies’s argument and granting the state significant discretion in carrying out the execution, even if it cannot guarantee a painless death.

Alabama Acknowledges Dangers of Nitrogen Hypoxia Executions But Wants to Carry One Out Anyway

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses Alabama’s plan to use nitrogen hypoxia for the first time in the execution of Kenneth Smith, raising concerns about its safety and humanity. The method has prompted criticism, including a lawsuit by Reverend Jeff Hood, who argues that Alabama’s requirement for him to maintain distance during the execution infringes on religious liberties and creates a hostile environment for spiritual advisers. Professor Sarat highlights the untested nature of nitrogen hypoxia, its potential for causing seizures and suffocation, and the broader ethical issues surrounding the continued search for a “humane” method of execution.

Supreme Court’s Hands-Off Attitude Contributes to Growing Public Doubts about the Death Penalty

Amherst professor Austin Sarat reflects on the Death Penalty Information Center’s year-end report, which highlights both progress in abolishing capital punishment in the U.S. and the Supreme Court’s reluctance to ensure fairness in death penalty cases. Professor Sarat argues that the Supreme Court’s diminishing role in scrutinizing death penalty cases and its tolerance for injustice in these matters may be contributing to growing public skepticism about the death penalty, evidenced by increasing support among lawmakers and the public for its repeal or limitation.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law and Director of the Center of Labor and... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more