- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008


Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a key vote in upholding the death penalty more than 30 years ago, now says he believes capital punishment is unconstitutional.

Justice Stevens yesterday became the first of the nine sitting justices to say the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes. A penalty with such negligible returns to the state [is] patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment,” he said in a concurring opinion rejecting a challenge to lethal injections.

He said he will respect court precedents in favor of capital punishment, in explaining why he voted against the death-row inmates in Kentucky.

Justice Stevens, a 1975 appointee of President Ford, was new to the court when he co-authored the controlling opinion in 1976 that held that the death penalty is constitutional. Yesterday, he urged his colleagues to re-examine the constitutionality of capital punishment because of concerns that it is used in a racially discriminatory way and risks executing the innocent.

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