Logical and Consistent? An Analysis of Supreme Court Opinions Regarding the Death Penalty

Matthew B. Robinson, Appalachian State University
Kathleen M. Simon, Appalachian State University

This paper examines opinions by Supreme Court Justices of the most significant death penalty cases decided during the 1970s and 1980s (i.e., Furman v. Georgia 1972, Gregg v. Georgia 1976, Woodson v. North Carolina 1976, McKlesky v. Kemp 1987). The main purposes of the analysis are to determine: 1) what main justifications were used by Justices to support their own opinions; 2) how consistent over time were individual Justices in issuing their opinions; 3) what factors led to changes in opinions across time; 4) what was the role of political party affiliation in issuing opinions; and 5) what factors in larger society likely affected the decisions by the Court in each of these cases. The purpose of the paper is not to declare one side right or wrong, but to reach a fuller understanding of Supreme Court activity on the issue of capital punishment.

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Updated 05/20/2006