Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens believed in capital punishment at one time; he does not support the death penalty today. And, in an article published in the December 23, 2010, issue of the New York Review of Books (available now online), entitled "On the Death Sentence," Justice Stevens tells us why.
What John Paul Stevens has written is a review of a book, of course. He’s providing his opinion on the merits of David Garland’s new work, Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 417 pp., $35.00). It is the New York Review of Books and Stevens’ commentary on the death penalty necessarily parallels his analysis of Garland’s contribution and its merits.
Still, Stevens’ essay gives us as much or more about his own views on the death penalty – and why he finds it to be unconstitutional – as it does his opinion on whether or not we should buy and read the new Garland book. No longer confined by the role of active Justice on the High Court, John Paul Stevens uses this opportunity to give voice to his perspective on capital punishment in America today, taking advantage of the historical perspective found in Garland’s book to take us through a detailed account of why this sage scholar who voted in 1976 to reinstate the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia now believes that capital punishment is wrong.