Smoke and Mirrors on Race and the Death Penalty
October 1, 2003Kent S. Scheidegger
Claims that the death penalty is enforced in a manner that discriminates on the basis of race have long been prominent in the capital punishment debate. In its 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court relied on the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause to throw out the capital punishment laws then in existence, but the Equal Protection Clause lay just beneath the surface of the opinions. Congress and 38 state legislatures rewrote their laws to put more structure into the sentencing decision so as to reduce the possibility of racial bias.