Friday, September 30, 2005

a BIG media HIT makes everything so nice...

have you ever drifted off to sleep, had a wonderful dream, think ferreal that it's happening all around you, only to wake up and realize that ________, it's a _______ dream???

well, i had pretty much the opposite experience this morning ... i couldn't sleep last night (though my dog dubious had no problem) and when i finally did i awoke from a tremulous dream over - well, i'll spare you the depressing details ... so i got up sleepy as _____, did all the mornin' thangs and went into abolition central (which is in a funky house in a blue collar neighborhood in west nashvegas) ...

i popped up my computer, started some decaf coffee (blood pressure issues) and pulled up my e-mail ... and holy ______ batman, there it was in all it's glory ... a headline stating, no screaming really,

TCASK still opposes Thompson execution...

2 days ago one of our death penalty cases that had it's stay lifted had a 2/7/06 date set ... the guy, greg thompson, is severely mentally ill and admittedly so by the attorney general (we say his surname is LeStat) and his "expert"... so tcask immediately issued a press release the next day (if you're on the ncadp affiliates list serve you'll recall our request for your recent releases re:mental illness) ... it goes out to more than 250 media contacts at more than 175 media outlets statewide - thank you very much JV alex wiesendanger for updating our media list the first week you were in tennessee...

but there's one paper - one audience we really want to talk with ... and that's the people who live in shelbyville where the horrific murder took place 20 years ago ... and sure as my daddy's asthmatic THAT's the paper we got a hit in ...

the shelbyville times-gazette ... sounds small town don't it???

and it is ... but check out the story it's a humdinger ... pulled a huge chunk including the 2 key quotes straight from the release ...

well lemme tell ya - when that kinda result from your work kick starts yer day it's gonna be a mighty good one ... and it was too ... we finished the 3rd and (nearly) final draft of a speaker's training workshop that kicks some serious butt (we drive it first time on october 14) ... made several appointments in giles county (home district of the house judiciary committee chair and very rural) ... and all kinds of good, productive stuff that's like the mortar that'll hold the bricks together that's the edifice that will take down capital punishment in tennessee...

it's a great day to be a death penalty abolitionist ... get out there and try it some time ...

peace out from music city usa,


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Juan Melendez on the road

Juan Melendez, who was the 99th person freed from death row due to actual innocence since the mid 1970s, is currently on the road speaking to students and others about his experience. The other day, he was at the University of Georgia, where a journalist with the university daily filed this report:

In a Pennsylvania field on May 2, 1984, Juan Melendez was eating his lunch under an apple tree with other migrant workers when FBI agents, pointing guns, approached them and ordered them to lie on the ground.

When the agents asked for Melendez, he raised his hand.

He then was arrested and extradited to Florida on a 1st degree murder charge.

A jury of 11 whites and one black convicted Melendez less than 3 days after the trial began. He was sentenced to death.

On Jan. 3, 2002 - 17 years, 8 months and 1 day after he arrived at prison Melendez was exonerated and set free.

Thats the story Melendez told a crowd of about 150 Tuesday in the University School of Law.

Melendez, who only spoke Spanish at the time of the trial, talked about the problems he had with his original trial lawyer and the lack of an interpreter.

"The only evidence they had against me was the plea deals' testimonies and both witnesses had criminal records," Melendez said.

He recalled cockroaches in the cells, rats climbing his blanket at night and thoughts of suicide.

"I had to find, think and trust something more powerful than the system," he said, referring to his Christian faith.

Of course, if the Streamlined Procedures Act had been in place at the time of Juan's appeals, he would likely be dead now, executed by the state of Florida. Today the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the SPA, and we can only hope that one or two Republicans come to their senses and vote against it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Nightmare out of New Orleans

Human Rights Watch reports on a breaking story that could be out of a bad Stephen King novel:

(New York, September 22, 2005)—As Hurricane Katrina began pounding New Orleans, the sheriff's department abandoned hundreds of inmates imprisoned in the city’s jail, Human Rights Watch said today.

Inmates in Templeman III, one of several buildings in the Orleans Parish Prison compound, reported that as of Monday, August 29, there were no correctional officers in the building, which held more than 600 inmates. These inmates, including some who were locked in ground-floor cells, were not evacuated until Thursday, September 1, four days after flood waters in the jail had reached chest-level.

“Of all the nightmares during Hurricane Katrina, this must be one of the worst,” said Corinne Carey, researcher from Human Rights Watch. “Prisoners were abandoned in their cells without food or water for days as floodwaters rose toward the ceiling.”

Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the conduct of the Orleans Sheriff's Department, which runs the jail, and to establish the fate of the prisoners who had been locked in the jail. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, which oversaw the evacuation, and the Orleans Sheriff’s Department should account for the 517 inmates who are missing from the list of people evacuated from the jail.

Carey spent five days in Louisiana, conducting dozens of interviews with inmates evacuated from Orleans Parish Prison, correctional officers, state officials, lawyers and their investigators who had interviewed more than 1,000 inmates evacuated from the prison.

The sheriff of Orleans Parish, Marlin N. Gusman, did not call for help in evacuating the prison until midnight on Monday, August 29, a state Department of Corrections and Public Safety spokeswoman told Human Rights Watch. Other parish prisons, she said, had called for help on the previous Saturday and Sunday. The evacuation of Orleans Parish Prison was not completed until Friday, September 2.

According to inmates interviewed by Human Rights Watch, they had no food or water from the inmates' last meal over the weekend of August 27-28 until they were evacuated on Thursday, September 1. By Monday, August 29, the generators had died, leaving them without lights and sealed in without air circulation. The toilets backed up, creating an unbearable stench.

“They left us to die there,” Dan Bright, an Orleans Parish Prison inmate told Human Rights Watch at Rapides Parish Prison, where he was sent after the evacuation.

As the water began rising on the first floor, prisoners became anxious and then desperate. Some of the inmates were able to force open their cell doors, helped by inmates held in the common area. All of them, however, remained trapped in the locked facility.

“The water started rising, it was getting to here,” said Earrand Kelly, an inmate from Templeman III, as he pointed at his neck. “We was calling down to the guys in the cells under us, talking to them every couple of minutes. They were crying, they were scared. The one that I was cool with, he was saying ‘I'm scared. I feel like I'm about to drown.' He was crying.”

Some inmates from Templeman III have said they saw bodies floating in the floodwaters as they were evacuated from the prison. A number of inmates told Human Rights Watch that they were not able to get everyone out from their cells.

So far, to the best of my knowledge, the so-called mainstream media has not covered this story. But go here for a transcript of a Democracy Now report.

Monday, September 26, 2005

25,000 and counting

Sometime late last night, we received our 25,000th visitor. Granted, that's not much traffic compared with some blogs that are out there. But for this little single-issue blog, we are grateful!

So keep stopping by and we'll keep blogging along!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

What's in the brown paper bag?

Luis Ramirez of Texas has an Oct. 20 execution date. A while back, he wrote the following about Napolean Beasley, one of the last juvenile offenders executed in the United States. With Luis' date so near, this posting is timely:

What's In the Brown Paper Bag?

By Luis Ramirez #999309

I'm about the share with you a story who's telling is long past due. It's a familiar story to most of you reading this from death row. And now it's one that all of you in "free world " may benefit from. This is the story of my first day on the row.

I came here in May of 1999. The exact date is something that I can't recall. I do remember arriving in the afternoon. I was placed in a cell on H-20 wing over at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, TX. A tsunami of emotions and thoughts were going through my mind at the time. I remember the only things in the cell were a mattress, pillow, a couple of sheets, a pillow case, a roll of toilet paper, and a blanket. I remember sitting there, utterly lost.

The first person I met there was Napolean Beasley. Back then, death row prisoners still worked. His job at the time was to clean up the wing and help serve during meal times. He was walking around sweeping the pod in these ridiculous looking rubber boots. He came up to the bars on my cell and asked me if I was new. I told him that I had just arrived on death row. He asked what my name is. I told him, not seeing any harm in it. He then stepped back where he could see all three tiers. He hollered at everyone, "There's a new man here. He just drove up. His name is Luis Ramirez." When he did that, I didn't know what to make of it at first. I thought I had made some kind of mistake. You see, like most of you, I was of the impression that everyone on death row was evil. I thought I would find hundreds of "Hannibal Lecters" in here. And now, they all knew my name. I thought "Oh well," that's strike one. I was sure that they would soon begin harassing me. This is what happens in the movies after all.

Well, that's not what happened . After supper was served, Napolean was once again sweeping the floors. As he passed my cell, He swept a brown paper bag into it. I asked him "What's this?" He said for me to look inside and continued on his way. Man, I didn't know what to expect. I was certain it was something bad. Curiosity did get the best of me though. I carefully opened the bag. What I found was the last thing I ever expected to find on death row, and everything I needed. The bag contained some stamps, envelopes, notepad, pen, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, tooth brush, a pastry, a soda, and a couple of Ramen noodles. I remember asking Napolean where this came from.

He told me that everyone had pitched in. That they knew that I didn't have anything and that it may be a while before I could get them. I asked him to find out who had contributed. I wanted to pay them back. He said, "It's not like that. Just remember the next time you see someone come here like you. You pitch in something."

I sat there on my bunk with my brown paper bag of goodies, and thought about what had just happened to me. The last things I expected to find on death row was kindness and generosity. They knew what I needed and they took it upon themselves to meet those needs. They did this without any expectation of reimbursement or compensation. They did this for a stranger, not a known friend. I don't know what they felt when they committed this act of incredible kindness. I only know that like them, twelve "good people" had deemed me beyond redemption. The only remedy that these "good people" could offer us is death. Somehow what these "good people" saw and what I was seeing didn't add up. How could these men, who just showed me so much humanity, be considered the "worst of the worst."

Ever since Napolean was executed, for a crime he committed as a teen, I've wanted to share this story with his family. I would like for them to know that their son was a good man. One who I will never forget. I want for them to know how sorry I am that we as a society failed them and him. I still find it ridiculous that we as a people feel that we cannot teach or love our young properly. I'm appalled at the idea that a teen is beyond redemption, that the only solution that we can offer is death. It's tragic that this is being pointed out to the "good people" by one of the "worst of the worst". God help us all.

What's in the brown paper bag? I found caring, kindness, love, humanity, and compassion of a scale that I've never seen the "good people" in the free world show towards one another.

Luis Ramirez can be contacted at:

Luis Ramirez #999309
Polunsky Unit-Death Row
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Podcasting, anyone?

Recently there were some folks out of Houston podcasting around the case of Frances Newton.

I'm looking into the possibility of trying to recruit a volunteer who can podcast the plenary sessions from NCADP's upcoming national conference, which will be held in Austin Oct. 28-30. I'm also possibly looking for people interested in podcasting portions of the Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing, which will visit a number of Texas towns and cities in the weeks preceeding the NCADP conference.

If you're interested, drop me an email at delliot @, okay? I don't know much about this new technology, but am intrigued at the idea of podcasting these events to thousands of abolitionists who would like to attend the conference but can't make it.

Washed away but not washed up

Sister Helen, after having to relocate because of Katrina, has been on the road lately. Here's a story about a recent appearance in Illinois, where she spoke just two hours after the execution of Frances Newton:

As the honored speaker at Elmhurst College’s annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Lecture, Sister Prejean discussed the moral and ethical arguments against capital punishment. The academic discussion turned into one of real consequences as attention was called to the small flame on stage that burned in honor of Frances Newton of Texas. The 40-year-old woman was executed less than two hours before Sister Helen Prejean addressed a crowd of over 1,000 people Sept. 14 inside the Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel at Elmhurst College.

Speaking about a topic she feels most Americans "feel very ambivalent" about, her voice grew heavy and her words slowed during a discussion on the execution that occurred at 6 p.m. Sister Prejean told the crowd that she had met with Newton and was familiar with the case that left doubts of guilt in the minds of many. Sister Prejean said this was another unfortunate example and the topic of her second book, "The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions." She said, "When you read the book, you will be the first full jury they ever had who knows all the facts."

Currently touring the country to promote the 2004 book that followed the highly lauded tome published in 1993, "Dead Man Walking," the nun set the tone for the presentation early urging the audience to seriously reflect upon the death penalty. She said, "We’re here to talk about life and death. We’re here to talk about our country, the social fabric that holds us together....We want to navigate morally, we want to feel the outrage for those who have been killed who are innocent, but we also want to look critically at how our society deals with violence and what our moral response should be."

The nun, who worked in Louisiana for over 20 years, also addressed the headlines that were on the minds of many just a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. She acknowledged her personal inconvenience was incomparable to the thousands that are suffering great tragedies as a result of the hurricane. Sister Prejean was too humble to discuss details of how her New Orleans ministry, the Moratorium Campaign, was destroyed and left her staff scrambling to re-establish its headquarters in Baton Rouge. However, she did offer a parallel between the natural disaster and the human-instigated tragedy of the death penalty. She said, "It’s a symbol, an emblem of the neglect that’s been going on in our cities for a long time. People have been drowning in New Orleans for a long time."

To read the entire piece go here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Blogging on Gary Gauger

I've never previously blogged on Gary Gauger. He's one of the 121 death row exonorees that are on the Death Penalty Information Center's official list.

But today, this news article, printed in a campus newspaper in Utah, caught my eye.

Before 1993, Gary Gauger had only a few minor run-ins with law enforcement officials. Then he was arrested for the murder of his parents.

Twelve years later, another man has confessed to the murder and Gauger has been pardoned. But he wants to make sure the 3 1/2 years he spent on death row for their murders -- and the decades others have spent fearing their lives would be taken for crimes they didn't commit -- doesn't happen to anyone else.

Gauger spoke at Utah Valley State College on Monday as part of Ethics Awareness Week, a series of speeches and forums at the college on topics such as the death penalty, U.S. immigration policy, religion and sexuality and endangered species.

To read the entire piece go here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Five sentences. Seventy-nine words.

Doubt they'll print it, but I sent the following to the New York Times yesterday:

Sept. 15, 2005

To the Editor:

The paltry five sentences (79 words) you gave to coverage of the Sept. 14 Frances Newton execution served only to compound an injustice.

Newton – the first African American woman executed by the state of Texas since the Civil War – was denied adequate review of her sentence. Her execution was not noteworthy because she was a woman, nor because she was African American. It was noteworthy because she may well have been innocent.

The failure of multiple layers of courts, and of officials of the executive branch of Texas’ government to give Newton the comprehensive review she deserved was a failure of American democratic principles and due process. When war abroad and natural tragedy at home dominate the headlines, it is more important than ever to display cases like Newton’s under the light of day – and under the type of public scrutiny that ample media coverage can bring.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Checking in from Houston

Just got this message and wanted to make sure people new about this (relatively) new way of using the Internet....seems that someone was podcasting on Frances Newton's case. This is the type of "new media" that I really like to see people in our movement using -- kudos, Mike, whoever you are!

I wish I had known this blog existed yesterday, or even before that. i was watching and waiting yesterday with no one really to connect with before I went to the vigil at St. Anne's in Houston.

I did a series of podcasts about my personal experience in speaking out about this case. One of them includes and interview with Frances' mom. If you are interested in hearing them, go to

Thanks for all of your work.

'A storm cloud of doubt'

The Austin Chronicle -- one of the precious few media outlets that comprehensively examined the Frances Newton case -- had this to say this morning:

Newton Executed: No Relief

On Wednesday, Frances Newton became the third woman to die in Texas' death chamber since executions resumed in 1982, and the first black woman to be executed in the state since the Civil War. She was executed despite considerable evidence of prosecutorial negligence, inadequate defense, and recent documentation of evidence lost or suppressed during the original prosecution. On Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Newton's final appeal (unanimously and without comment.)

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 to deny clemency to Newton, who was convicted of the 1987 murder of her husband and two young children. The board's refusal was echoed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the federal district court for the Southern District of Texas, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The string of refusals – and most significantly the denial of clemency by the BPP, whose authority is not limited by any rigidly defined statutory scheme – was astounding considering the gravity of new evidence that Newton's attorneys proffered in recent weeks, which appears to support the long-standing suspicion that Houston sheriff's investigators recovered multiple firearms in connection with the April 1987 triple murder – despite prosecutorial insistence that a single weapon was seized during the investigation.

On Aug. 25, Newton's attorney David Dow, director of the Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law Center, filed an addendum to Newton's clemency petition citing investigators' assertions that at least two identical .25-caliber Raven Arms guns had been recovered in connection with the crime. Although this specific information had never before been corroborated, the CCA denied Newton's final appeal based on its opinion that the recent revelations were somehow old news. The BPP's denial is perhaps the most astounding, because the board voted to recommend (and Gov. Rick Perry granted) Newton a 120-day reprieve in December in order to allow time for further testing of suspect evidence used against her at trial.

But rather than put to rest doubts about Newton's guilt, the resumed investigation actually generated additional, critical questions about the conduct of investigators and prosecutors, leading many legal observers to conclude that the board would again agree she should not be killed while a storm cloud of doubt still threatened the case. Apparently those who thought the board had the capacity for clear and compassionate reasoning were wrong.

To read an earlier, more comprehensive piece about Newton's case (by the same reporter) go here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Newton executed.

Frances Newton died shortly after 6 p.m. Texas time this evening.

I hope that those of us who thought her innocent and those of us who know she received an horrificly unfair trial, can find it in our hearts to forgive the Harris County prosecutors, all of the judges and the elected officials who did this to her.

I want to post this quote from the Austin Chronicle about her case:

There is no incontrovertible evidence against Newton, and the paltry evidence that does exist has been completely compromised. Moreover, her story is one more in a long line of Texas death row cases in which the prosecutions were sloppy or dishonest, the defenses incompetent or negligent, and the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial was honored only in name.

No word on Frances Newton

With the scheduled execution less than three hours away, we're still awaiting word on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will intervene.

Frances Newton was moved, this morning I think, to a holding cell next to the death chamber.

Other NCADP staffers and I are heading over to the U.S. House of Representatives building, where Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is holding a 5 p.m. press conference to demand a new trial. At this point, any little thing helps...hopefully.

Hello, Moving Ideas Network

While we are anxiously awaiting word from the U.S. Supreme Court today regarding Frances Newton's final appeals, we'll be attending a seminar on nonprofit blogging put on by the Moving Ideas Network.

We'll be hearing from Adam Hughes, who handles the blog for OMB Watch and Meghan Scott, political director at Public Campaign, who helps manage a blog called Daily Delay., which focuses on the shenanigans of our House majority leader.

We'll also be discussing this blog, why it was launched and what it hopes to contribute.

To read more about blogs and their impact in the political world, go here.

Meanwhile, we'll be back later today with news about Frances.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Clock ticking on Newton

Barring intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court, it appears that Frances Newton will be executed by the State of Texas shortly after 6 p.m. central standard time Wednesday.

There are serious and substantial questions surrounding the accuracy and fairness of Newton's conviction. (You can take action by going here.)

The thing about this case that strikes me: Death penalty proponents should be jumping up and down to stop this execution. If you believe in the death penalty, then surely your greatest fear is that the death penalty system will be undermined (and perhaps ultimately abolished) by the execution of a person who is quite possibly, if not probably, innocent.

After all, several countries (Canada and Great Britain) and several states (Michigan, Wisconsin and, I believe, Minnesota) abolished the death penalty after evidence emerged that they each had executed innocent people.

But proponents will be unmoved. Like ostriches with heads planted firmly in sand, they will continue to defend this system until it collapses under the weight of its many blunders, bureaucracies and biases.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A milestone, of sorts

My friend Peter alerted me to this. Tomorrow, voters in Manhattan will choose between incumbent District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, a staunch death penalty opponent, and Leslie Crocker Snyder, who favors the death penalty.

Politicians in the past have used their support for the death penalty as an issue -- lots. Take U.S. Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat. He got elected governor of Florida complaining that the previous governor wasn't executing enough people. After he won election, the execution rate went way up (in fact, for a while Florida was executing more people than Texas.)

Or take Texas. Former Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, and former Gov. Mark White, a Democrat, each campaigned on the need for more executions.

But now we have something different -- a milestone of sorts, a turning point, perhaps.

Morgenthau has mailed out a two-page direct mail piece criticizing Snyder for her support for the death penalty. The mailer is perfect and on message. (Click here to read it.)

Granted, Texas is not Manhattan. But there's a little bit of Manhattan in Austin and a little bit of Austin in Manhattan.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Quote of the day

From today's Chicago Tribune:

Death penalty foe to relocate

Death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean is relocating her home and office from New Orleans--where both are under water--to Baton Rouge after fleeing before Katrina came ashore. On Thursday, she was in Orlando, Fla., addressing public defenders about her opposition to the death penalty.

"I am comparing the death penalty system to the levees in New Orleans," she said. "They told us they would work, but they didn't."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Frances Newton

As has been noted before, Frances Newton is scheduled for execution next Wednesday. Today's Austin Chronicle has a lengthy story on her case -- and once again, and alternative newsweekly has outperformed the mainstream Texas media in investigative reporting on a death penalty case:

Without Evidence: Executing Frances Newton
Unless the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry act to stop it, on Sept. 14 Frances Newton will become only the third woman executed by the state of Texas since 1982, and the first black woman executed since the Civil War.

Unique in that historical sense, in other ways the Frances Newton case is painfully unexceptional. For there is no incontrovertible evidence against Newton, and the paltry evidence that does exist has been completely compromised. Moreover, her story is one more in a long line of Texas death row cases in which the prosecutions were sloppy or dishonest, the defenses incompetent or negligent, and the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial was honored only in name.

To read the entire piece, go here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

On DNA testing

It's called the CSI syndrome: Many Americans believe that DNA has become this failsafe that convicts the guilty and frees the innocent.

Were it only that simple. The truth is, state prosecutors can often overwhelm defense attorneys with their expert witnesses and analysis of DNA evidence. Too, many crime labs have come under fire for "drylabbing" results, which means not doing the actual testing but concluding that the DNA evidence shows what the state wants it to show. This has happened in Harris County, Texas and in Oklahoma. Other problems have surfaced with labs in Virginia, North Carolina and with the FBI's national crime lab. And I think I am leaving some states out.

Now comes Winston-Salem North Carolina columnist John Railey, who writes, "At its best, DNA testing can free the wrongly imprisoned and catch the killers and rapists who walk among us. But it's only as good as we demand that it be."

An excerpt:

Yet DNA testing is only as good as the humans who carry it out. And so it is that we have mistakes such as those made by Brenda Bissette. While with the State Bureau of Investigation, Bissette did DNA testing in 2003 that supposedly matched blood from Leslie Lincoln to blood from the scene where her mother was slain in Greenville. Now, thanks to challenges from a sharp defense attorney, SBI officials say that Bissette mislabeled the test tubes that she used to extract DNA from the blood samples. Subsequent testing failed to match Lincoln to blood from the scene.

Bissette was removed from her lab duties before she retired. Her files for all 50 DNA cases that she handled since 2002 are being reviewed.

And Leslie Lincoln still sits in a Greenville jail, charged with killing her mother, although prosecutors did drop plans to pursue the death penalty after the DNA mess was finally straightened out. The DNA test may well have been the strongest evidence against her. Now, you tend to wonder about the whole case, and wonder if one more killer is still out there somewhere.

To read the entire column, go here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Judging Kennedy

There's a fascinating (and very long) article in the New Yorker about the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy and how Kennedy is influenced by international standards and rulings. The article is headlined, "Swing Shift: How Anthony Kennedy's passion for foreign law could change the Supreme Court."

For those interested in the subject, this is a must-read.

Here's a quick excerpt:

The debate over foreign law and the Constitution thrusts the Supreme Court into the perennial struggle in American politics between internationalists and isolationists. More important, perhaps, Kennedy’s unlikely transformation into a tribune of legal multiculturalism offers a striking lesson in the unpredictability of the Court. If O’Connor’s replacement, presumably John G. Roberts, Jr., turns out to be a dependable conservative, Kennedy’s influence on the Court is likely to grow. With John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer to his left and Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, and (possibly) the new Justice to his right, Kennedy’s vote may increasingly determine the Court’s decisions.

To read the entire piece (it's long!) go here.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

John Roberts, the death penalty, the Supreme Court

Steve Hall from Stand Down Texas called our attention to an excellent article in the Atlantic Monthly about the future of the death penalty at the U.S. Supreme Court. The article is too long to post here (and besides, last time we did that their lawyers got all a-twitter) but here is the concluding paragraph and the link:

Despite O'Connor's retirement, the Court's new approach seems likely to impose significant constraints on capital punishment, but ones that will be largely invisible to the public. The Court will probably not be striking down many laws, but the justices will tighten the screws by scrutinizing individual cases enough to further isolate the death penalty regionally and to raise its political and financial costs. This is a matter less of politics than of simple human nature. The Court speaks in the language of principle, but only a few of the justices are so committed to the principle of deference to state-court judgments that they would feel comfortable over time seeing their names on opinions upholding manifest injustices. Since Roger Keith Coleman's execution, in 1992, Virginia law-enforcement authorities have successfully resisted calls for posthumous DNA testing that could resolve his claims of innocence. Coleman may or may not have been innocent; but someday we're going to learn for sure that someone put to death in this country was in fact not guilty. And it's a fair bet that no one would want her obituary to say she called the debate over that execution "a case about federalism."

To read the entire piece, go here.