35 years of death penalty regrets

by: Amnesty International USA
published: 1st July 2011

Thirty-five years ago, on July 2, 1976, on the eve of massive bicentennial celebrations, the U.S. Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia voted 7-2 to re-instate capital punishment. There had been no executions in the U.S. since 1967. The U.S. could have been a leader in the subsequent worldwide trend toward death penalty abolition; instead the U.S. has become an outlier along with a minority of other countries (like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia) that still kill prisoners.

What might have been?

Three of those 7 justices (Stevens, Blackmun and Powell) have since regretted their vote in Gregg, meaning that if there could be some sort of time-travel Stevens, Blackmun and Powell’s Excellent Adventure do-over, the death penalty might have never come back.

But, as with executing likely innocent people, you can’t go back in time to undo your mistakes. The death penalty did come back.

A new report from Amnesty International (summary here) reflects on the last 35 years of American capital punishment, observing that while the U.S. has been busy killing over 1,250 prisoners, the rest of the world has been abandoning the death penalty, with 139 nations now abolitionist in law or practice.

The isolation of the U.S. on this issue is beginning to have real consequences, as states’ degrading and cringe-inducing efforts to obtain execution drugs in an increasingly global marketplace runs up against growing global opposition to the death penalty.

Read full report >