Confessions of a US Supreme Court judge…

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens on the moderating effects of the US Supreme Court bench, and his ‘wrong decision’ regarding the US death penalty…

  • Alias

    He doesn’t object to the death penalty on principle or cite non-applicable international humanitarian law. He is mainly concerned about how it is being implemented in practice in regard to eligible offenses, safeguards against racial bias, minimising the risk of error, etc. So it is not that he is wrong to support the death penalty but rather that he was wrong to assume that states would do a good job of implementing it.

    It’s not suprising that he didn’t refer to the lenght of time it takes to actually carry out an execution since to do so would be to imply that those sentenced to death were not entitled to the same standard of appeals as other convicts. Yet, that lenght of time provided for appeals (and media campaigns) is probably the why death penalty does so much damage to the states that implement it.

  • Rory Carr

    While I suspect, from many references passim, that Mick was struck here by Justice Stevens recollection of Gerald Ford’s definition of civility as being a space where, “One could disagree without being disgreeable,” (a definition with which I would not myself find disagreement), neverttheless I was struck at one part of the interview at just how easy it becomes to distort the whole tenor of a man’s thrust merely by quoting selectively and devoid of context.

    Thus when (at about 5:10 in) Stevens is asked his opinion on how he thinks the Troy Davis case might affect the clamour for abolition of the death penalty, one might select from his reply, “Well, I don’t know. I’m not a very good judge,” to condemn any opinion he might have to worthlessness, when in fact Justice Stevens is actually going on to say, “…I am not a very good judge of public reaction on something like this.” (My emohasis) A more measured statement entirely.

    Of course there are other ways of using a man’s words out of context or in opposition to what he may have intended or even, sometimes what he doesn’t say at all, in order to make a point of one’s own entirely unrelated and give it the appearance of some form of imprimatur by association that is entirely unwarranted.

    Wouldn’t you say so, Alias?

  • Alias

    “Wouldn’t you say so, Alias?”

    I’d say you used up a day’s worth of your usual waffle to say “You took his words out of context.” In fact, I offered an accurate summation of what he said, whereas as you obviously have your own futileagenda.

    Here’s the transcript:

    “JOHN PAUL STEVENS: About the death penalty? Well, of course, it’s a long story, because I’ve been involved in that issue for so long. But there also you have to keep in mind, there are always two part to the question. One is, “When do you think it’s constitutional to have the death penalty?” And the other question is whether one thinks it’s a wise thing to do. And on the second question, whether your opponent is a matter of policy I’ve never felt that it was a particularly wise method of punishment. And several of the members of the court, I can say specifically Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun, although they voted to uphold the penalty consistently early on, they personally did not think it made sense.

    But my own thinking on the issue, on the constitutional issue evolved over the years, after our first decision in 1975, in the first year that I came in the court, in which at which time I thought the court was adopting procedures and rules that would confine the imposition of the death penalty into a very narrow set of cases. And they took special pains to have fair procedures.

    And over the years, the– I was disappointed to find they expanded the category of cases, rather dramatically later on, in ways that I don’t think Potter Stewart would have agreed with– who was sort of the principle author of our join opinion on– and they also have relaxed procedures in ways that actually give the prosecutor advantages in capital cases that I don’t think he has in ordinary criminal cases. And so that seemed to me there’s a change in the general atmosphere around capital cases that occurred over the years and made me–”

  • Alias

    By the way, in case you are unaware of the ‘wrong decision’ context of the thread’s topic – as you appear to be – John Paul Stevens is a former Supreme Court justice who voted in 1976 to reinstate the death penalty.

    As I pointed out, and as it clear from the transcript, “He doesn’t object to the death penalty on principle or cite non-applicable international humanitarian law. He is mainly concerned about how it is being implemented in practice in regard to eligible offenses, safeguards against racial bias, minimising the risk of error, etc. So it is not that he is wrong to support the death penalty but rather that he was wrong to assume that states would do a good job of implementing it.”

    In other words, he now falls into the group that “felt that the penalty really wasn’t worth it and caused more harm than good” and not the group who proffer moral arguments and irrelevant international human rights law (not binding on the US courts) rather than relevant constitutional arguments.

  • Kevsterino

    Many states do not have a death penalty, of course. One of the constitutional arguments presented is that it is a matter left to the several States to decide on their own. That, of course, has no moral substance and washes federal hands of the whole bloody business. The death penalty in the United States currently is a tangle of different applications varying from region to region and state to state. It has the potential to complicate further when a perpetrator murders in a state with a death penalty and flees to a state that doesn’t. It really is a mess that could get messier.

  • Alias

    Right, and which why opposition to the death penalty is best expressed as a political argument rather than a moral or a legal argument. The morality arguments are idiocyncratic and divisive and the oppositionists have already lost the constitutional argument.

    Those who oppose the death penalty would be better pointing out to legislators and the general public why it isn’t “a particularly wise method of punishment” and build common cause that way.