SUPREME COURT RULED DEATH PENALTY UNCONSTITUTIONAL 41 YEARS AGO
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) 41 years ago today, the New York Times announced the 5-4 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia, June 29, 1972, that capital punishment was unconstitutional.
United States Supreme Court
Photo by John L. Marino (2007)
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger* dissented along with the three other Nixon appointees on the Court.
*Warren E. Burger (1907-1995) was the 15th Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, serving from 1969 to 1986. He was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota and William Mitchell College of Law. He swore in Gerald R. Ford as President after Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.
Three justices in the majority (Douglas, Brennan and Marshall) argued that the death penalty is a violation of the "cruel and unusual punishment" statute in the 8th Amendment** to the US Constitution.
**The Eighth Amendment (1791), part of the original Bill of Rights, states...
"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines for imprisonment, nor cruel and unusual punishments afflicted."
President Richard M. Nixon, a supporter of capital punishment, expressed the hope that the decision would not "go as far as to rule out capital punishment for kidnapping and hijacking."
Several state governors believed that the ruling could "profoundly change the structure of criminal penalties" in the United States.
Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia said the decision "cleared the way for us to reexamine all our laws in Georgia."
California Governor Ronald Reagan expressed the opinion that the ruling would allow his state to reinstate the death penalty in cases of cold-blooded, premeditated murder.
Capital Punishment in the United States was reinstated by the Supreme Court ruling in Gregg v. Georgia (1976) that the death penalties in place in Florida, Georgia and Texas were constitutional and that they were not in violation of the 8th Amendment.
Today there are 33 states and 58 countries which practice capital punishment. 97 nations have abolished the death penalty.
Death Penalty Information Center, www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/
The New York Times, Friday, June 30, 1972.