Justice Stevens Explains Shift on Death Penalty

Former supporter cites racism, politics, judicial activism
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2010 6:07 AM CST
Justice Stevens Explains Shift on Death Penalty
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens addresses the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation luncheon in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens is making clear for the first time why he switched course on the death penalty in 2008, calling it unconstitutional, the New York Times reports. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Stevens, who supported capital punishment in 1976, reveals his revised belief that racism, politics, and unfairness plague the system.

Stevens argues that, with “regrettable judicial activism,” the Court has removed measures that could help ensure the death penalty is implemented fairly. For example, a 1987 case allowed what are essentially “race-based prosecutorial decisions.” Stevens’ recent outspokenness offers “a new model of what to expect from Supreme Court justices after they leave the bench, one that includes high-profile interviews and provocative speeches,” writes Adam Liptak.
(More John Paul Stevens stories.)

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