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The Road to Abolition?

The Future of Capital Punishment in the United States

Jr., Charles Ogletree, Austin Sarat

Publication Year: 2009

At the start of the twenty-first century, America is in the midst of a profound national reconsideration of the death penalty. There has been a dramatic decline in the number of people being sentenced to death as well as executed, exonerations have become common, and the number of states abolishing the death penalty is on the rise. The essays featured in The Road to Abolition? track this shift in attitudes toward capital punishment, and consider whether or not the death penalty will ever be abolished in America.

The interdisciplinary group of experts gathered by Charles J. Ogletree Jr., and Austin Sarat ask and attempt to answer the hard questions that need to be addressed if the death penalty is to be abolished. Will the death penalty end only to be replaced with life in prison without parole? Will life without the possibility of parole become, in essence, the new death penalty? For abolitionists, might that be a pyrrhic victory? The contributors discuss how the death penalty might be abolished, with particular emphasis on the current debate over lethal injection as a case study on why and how the elimination of certain forms of execution might provide a model for the larger abolition of the death penalty.

Published by: NYU Press

TItle Page, Copyright, dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

The contributors to this book first came together at a workshop sponsored by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School on February 15–16, 2008. We are grateful to the staff of the Institute for their help and to our contributors for their good work and enthusiasm for this project. ...

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Introduction: Toward and Beyond the Abolition of Capital Punishment

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pp. 1-16

Civil societies have historically tried to distinguish the crime of murder from other offenses. Typically, murder has been subject to the most severe punishment and most intense public outcry. Countries with vastly different forms of government and systems of punishment find common ground on the ...

Part I Assessing the Prospects for Abolition

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pp. 17

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1. The Executioner’s Waning Defenses

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pp. 19-45

Hugo Adam Bedau, my mentor, friend, and hero, turned 82 years old in 2008. I began research on capital punishment in 1979, when I was 28. If I am lucky enough to live as long as Hugo already has, I will have a 54-year career of death penalty work. Consequently, this essay is (more or less) ...

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2. Blinded by Science on the Road to Abolition?

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pp. 46-71

The central conceit of this essay is that the rhetorical invocation of science has been crucial to whatever recent progress the United States has made along the “road to abolition.” Here we focus on three important milestones. First is what has been called the “innocence revolution,” the harnessing of public awareness ...

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3. Abolition in the United States by 2050: On Political Capital and Ordinary Acts of Resistance

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pp. 72-96

Is the United States on the road to abolition, and, if so, by when will it have abolished the death penalty? The federal structure of the United States complicates the answer to these questions; nevertheless, recent trends in the United States and within the larger international community suggest that the country is headed ...

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4. The Beginning of the End?

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pp. 97-138

Is nationwide abolition of capital punishment a realistic prospect in the United States? This question has taken on new urgency as the United States has become increasingly isolated in its retention and use of the death penalty. Most nations of the world—including many third-world countries—have abolished ...

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5. Rocked but Still Rolling: The Enduring Institution of Capital Punishment in Historical and Comparative Perspective

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pp. 139-180

The abolition of capital punishment is a much discussed but complicated concept, and the standards for measuring where the United States is on the road to abolition are far from obvious. For one thing, a de facto halt in executions could (and often does) occur without a de jure prohibition of the death penalty. ...

Part II Debating Lethal Injection

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pp. 181

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6. For Execution Methods Challenges, the Road to Abolition Is Paved with Paradox

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pp. 183-214

The death penalty’s popularity has waned appreciably in recent years. Whether because of disturbing discoveries of innocence among death row inmates, the narrowing of the classes of individuals eligible for execution, racial disparities, botched executions, or other reasons, the courts and the public have shown ...

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7. Perfect Execution: Abolitionism and the Paradox of Lethal Injection

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pp. 215-251

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Baze v. Rees, which affirmed the constitutionality of Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol, represented a setback, if not an outright defeat, for foes of the death penalty in the United States. Most obviously, the plurality opinion rejected the petitioners’ proposed standard, which contended ...

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8. “No Improvement over Electrocution or Even a Bullet”: Lethal Injection and the Meaning of Speed and Reliability in the Modern Execution Process

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pp. 252-278

“The debate over capital punishment has reached a tipping point,” the editors of Lancet characterized the current situation in the February 2007 issue of their magazine, which is top ranked among medical publications.1 For years, wrongful convictions and a steadily growing number of exonerations from death row ...

Part III Putting the Death Penalty in Context

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pp. 279

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9. Torture, War, and Capital Punishment: Linkages and Missed Connections

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pp. 281-318

May 2008. The presidential primary campaigns are in full swing in the United States. Mortgage foreclosures, high gas prices, the war in Iraq, and health care dominate the campaign debates and policy pronouncements. Meanwhile, crucial decisions are made by current incumbents of the three branches of government ...

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10. Making Difference: Modernity and the Political Formations of Death

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pp. 319-348

To continue seeking in Derrida’s epigraphic terms may seem to contradict the telos of an unswerving “road to abolition,” but to continue seeking is, rather, to intimate an open, perhaps a more sinuous, road. Bluntly, self-styled “modern” political formation both sustains and counters the death penalty, and it does so ...

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About the Contributors

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pp. 349-352

Jay D. Aronson is Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society in the History Department at Carnegie Mellon University. His research and teaching focus on the interactions of science, technology, law, and human rights in criminal justice and post-conflict resolution contexts. ...


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pp. 353-374

E-ISBN-13: 9780814762547
E-ISBN-10: 0814762549
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814762172
Print-ISBN-10: 0814762174

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2009