In a day of unfortunate but not unexpected news from the Supreme Court, which ruled that lethal injections are not unconstitutional, one of the Justices on the Court for the first time called for the abolition of the death penalty.
Another member of the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens, said in his separate opinion that he felt bound by the court’s precedents to uphold the constitutionality of the Kentucky protocol. But he went on to call for abolishing the death penalty, both as a matter of policy and of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. “State-sanctioned killing,” Justice Stevens said, was “becoming more and more anachronistic.”
Justice Stevens voted with the majority that restored capital punishment in 1976, his first year on the court. But he said he had changed his mind, based on “my own experience” in seeing how the death penalty is actually carried out in a changing climate. Among the factors he singled out was a series of decisions that he said had “endorsed procedures that provide less protections to capital defendants than to ordinary offenders.”