'Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment'

'Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment'

Carol S. Steiker, the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law and Special Advisor for Public Service at Harvard Law School, has released a new book with Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment. The book, co-authored with Jordan M. Steiker, builds on their 2009 study that led to The American Law Institute’s vote to withdraw the capital punishment provisions in the Model Penal Code.

From the publisher:

“Unique among Western democracies in refusing to eradicate the death penalty, the United States has attempted instead to reform and rationalize state death penalty practices through federal constitutional law. Courting Death traces the unusual and distinctive history of top-down judicial regulation of capital punishment under the Constitution and its unanticipated consequences for our time.

In the 1960s and 1970s, in the face of widespread abolition of the death penalty around the world, provisions for capital punishment that had long fallen under the purview of the states were challenged in federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened in two landmark decisions, first by constitutionally invalidating the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia (1972) on the grounds that it was capricious and discriminatory, followed four years later by restoring it in Gregg v. Georgia (1976). Since then, by neither retaining capital punishment in unfettered form nor abolishing it outright, the Supreme Court has created a complex regulatory apparatus that has brought executions in many states to a halt, while also failing to address the problems that led the Court to intervene in the first place.

While execution chambers remain active in several states, constitutional regulation has contributed to the death penalty’s new fragility. In the next decade or two, Carol Steiker and Jordan Steiker argue, the fate of the American death penalty is likely to be sealed by this failed judicial experiment. Courting Death illuminates both the promise and pitfalls of constitutional regulation of contentious social issues.”

An ALI member since 2013, Professor Steiker currently serves as an Adviser on the Model Penal Code: Sexual Assault and Related Offenses. Watch a video of Professor Steiker’s lecture at the Radcliffe Institute or read a February 2015 interview in which she talks about her work in the Harvard Gazette.

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