Death penalty tinged with racism

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens once supported the death penalty but now says he believes it to be unconstitutional.

According to The New York Times, Justice Stevens criticized the court, saying that personnel changes and "regrettable judicial activism" has lead to a system of capital punishment that is plagued by racism and skewed towards conviction.

In a critical essay published in The New York Review of Books, Stevens claimed that the system of capital punishment has been infected with politics. Stevens offers many critiques of the death penalty and said that he believes local elections influence whether or not prosecutors and judges seek and impose the death penalty.

Stevens also defended the Supreme Court's 1976 decision to reinstate the death penalty but says that their promise for fair, unbiased convictions has been betrayed and that the court has not looked carefully enough into racial disparities that may effect the outcome of death penalty cases.

Stevens review of the book "Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition" includes a blow by blow critique of America's death penalty. The book, written by David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University, says that American enthusiasm for capital punishment stems form modern day politics and a cultural fascination with violence and death.

Beside offering his opinions on the death penalty in his essay, Stevens seems to be establishing a new template for what Supreme Court justices may be expected to do when leaving the bench. Stevens has weighed in on a few different controversies since his retirement, including the one over the proposed Islamic center near ground zero and has also appeared on "60 Minutes."

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