Alito and the Death Penalty

Thanks to Berkeley law professior Liu Goodwin for pointing out in an LA Times op-ed that there are issues besides abortion that are cause for concern over Judge Sam Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court -- particularly his past rulings in death penalty cases.

Capital cases make up a substantial portion of the Supreme Court's docket each year. From 2000 to 2005, the court decided only three cases involving abortion but more than three dozen cases involving the death penalty. In this area, the Supreme Court often serves not only in its typical role of deciding unsettled questions of broadly applicable law but also as a court of last resort to correct errors and prevent injustice in individual cases.

Goodwin reviews Alito's record in capital cases:

So what do we know about Alito's views on this issue? During his 15-year career on the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, Alito participated in 10 capital cases. Five were decided unanimously by three-judge panels and involved fairly straightforward issues. The other five provoked strong differences of opinion between Alito and his colleagues.

In every one of the five contested cases, Alito voted against the inmate and issued an opinion. Individually and especially as a whole, these opinions show a troubling tendency to tolerate serious errors in capital proceedings. Whatever one may think of the death penalty, Alito's record should give pause to all Americans committed to basic fairness and due process of law.

Goodwin's conclusion:

Although O'Connor's approach to capital punishment has been solidly conservative, she has at times supplied a crucial vote in contentious cases in favor of greater care and fairness in the application of the death penalty. Yet it is precisely in the most contentious cases that Alito has shown an unbroken pattern of excusing errors in capital proceedings and eroding norms of basic fairness.

At a time when America's commitment to due process of law is being closely scrutinized at home and abroad, Alito's record on capital punishment raises serious concerns. It deserves careful attention from the Senate and the American people as a measure of his capacity to interpret the law in pursuit of impartial, humane and equal justice.

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  • Re: Alito and the Death Penalty (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:28 PM EST
    I linked this post from my blog at US Liberals at About.com.