Superstar blogger….Very exciting…

Editor’s note:  Austin Sarat is our very first superstar guest blogger!  He is getting up to speed on the technology and posted this as a comment but I am making it its own post.  It goes nicely with Geoff’s.  Now. . . read and discuss. 

Meantime, the news reports about the feds. seeking the death penalty for terror suspects leads me to ask, what happened to the death penalty as a national political issue? Think back 20 years ago to the following question and answer involving CNN newsman Bernard Shaw and Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis:

SHAW: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer? 

DUKAKIS: No, I don’t, Bernard. And I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don’t see any evidence that it’s a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We’ve done so in my own state. And it’s one of the reasons why we have had the biggest drop in crime of any industrial state in America; why we have the lowest murder rate of any industrial state in America. But we have work to do in this nation. We have work to do to fight a real war, not a phony war, against drugs. And that’s something I want to lead, something we haven’t had over the course of the past many years, even though the Vice President has been at least allegedly in charge of that war. We have much to do to step up that war, to double the number of drug enforcement agents, to fight both here and abroad, to work with our neighbors in this hemisphere. And I want to call a hemispheric summit just as soon after the 20th of January as possible to fight that war. But we also have to deal with drug education prevention here at home. And that’s one of the things that I hope I can lead personally as the President of the United States. We’ve had great success in my own state. And we’ve reached out to young people and their families and been able to help them by beginning drug education and prevention in the early elementary grades. So we can fight this war, and we can win this war. And we can do so in a way that marshals our forces, that provides real support for state and local law enforcement officers who have not been getting that support, and do it in a way which will bring down violence in this nation, will help our youngsters to stay away from drugs, will stop this avalanche of drugs that’s pouring into the country, and will make it possible for our kids and our families to grow up in safe and secure and decent neighborhoods.

For the full transcript see

Such a question seems alomst unimagineable today. It maybe because Democrats have moved to the right of Dukakis on the death penalty issue. It may also be because the climate surrounding capital punishment has cooled.

Indeed I think we are in a period of national reconsideration of capital punishment, a period that was entirely unforseeable twenty or even ten years ago. Death sentences are down , executions are down , and public support is down .


Nebraska’s Supreme Court just struck down that state’sd method of execution (electrocution), and the nation is in a defacto moratorium while the Supreme Court considers a challenge to lethal injection.

In the words of Buffalo Springfield,  “Something’s Happening Here ….What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear.”

If there is interest I’d be pleased to offer some thoughts on how we got to this place with respect to capital punishment and to speculate on the future of capital punishment in the U.S.

Meantime I can’t wait for the SUPERSTAR!


7 Responses to Superstar blogger….Very exciting…

  1. laurabethnielsen says:

    Austin, is of course, the superstar blogger despite his modesty.

  2. dspett says:

    Ooh, I’m very curious to hear about the future of capital punishment (if there is any). And isn’t there an 8th amendment claim SCOTUS is hearing, or has heard, re: lethal injection?

  3. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    When I graduated from law school, I had two professional goals. The first was to be a prosecutor. For all the right reasons, I promise. The second was to practice and live in Chicago. The U.S. Attorney’s office wasn’t hiring recent grads, so I got an interview with the State’s Attorney’s office. The interview went smoothly, until the Death Penalty Question. No, I said, I would not prosecute a capital case, since I was philosophically opposed to it in all cases, no matter how horrific the crime. The state should not kill. Any man’s death diminishes me. Human life is sacred, and no policy goal of the state — deterrence, retribution, or anything else you might name — could ever justify ending killing a human being. Wrong answer — I was later told that it was an automatic disqualifier. So I took a job in private practice that paid about three times as much, and there I remain.

    If asked the same question today, 22 years later, I would give a different answer. First, I am much more leery of absolutist positions now than in my youth. Was it really wrong to kill Eichmann? Maybe in extreme cases, retribution is a sufficiently strong policy — it is only very recently that a large number of people have thought otherwise. The second reason is experiential. I noticed, for all my philosophy, that the earth did not move under my feet when Illinois executed John Wayne Gacy in my name. I did not feel particularly diminished. In fact, a little part of me felt like the bastard deserved it. And since it appeared that not all lives have equal value, none could have infinite value. (And yes, I am willing to make an emphatic exception for my own children, since I no longer require logical consistency, either. Indeed, my profession has taught me to discount its claims — As Justice Holmes said, “the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” Of course, he also said, “three generations of imbeciles are enough,” so he’s batting .500.) So if Adolph Eichmann showed up at 26th and Cal, I’d have no trouble today asking a jury to vote to put him to the sword. Same for John Wayne Gacy.

    But, I’m still an abolitionist. Not on philosophical grounds, but on pragmatic ones. The next Eichmann is unlikely to show up in Cook County. The next Gacy almost certainly will, eventually, but while I would not regard his judicial murder as an abomination, neither would I regard it as a moral imperative. For all but the Eichmanns of the world, other sanctions seem to me to be sufficiently harsh to serve the legitimate social need for retribution. And as Illinois’s experience shows (in spades), we can’t trust ourselves to get capital punishment right. We’ve learned recently just how many innocent people we convict — a lot — and avoiding executing an innocent seems to me to be closer to an absolute imperative than any rationale for executing the guilty might be. And there are the familiar arguments concerning disproportionality and racial effects that seem intractable. Plus it costs a ton of money to keep the system going, and it gives foreign despots a stick to beat us with. It’s just not worth it. The next Gacy will just have to live. And if the next Eichmann does come along, God forbid, I reserve the right to change my mind, and to call it law.

  4. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    For the young’uns out there, we should remind them that that answer by Gov. Dukakis, even more than the video of him in the tank, is generally considered the biggest reason he lost the election.

  5. laurabethnielsen says:

    The correct answer for Dukakis was more like, “that is totally rude and offensive and i don’t know how you screwed up the courage to ask me that. Despite your violent sexualization of my wife on national television, I will answer because American voters have a right to know where I stand on this. the answer is no regardless of the identity of the victim and here is why: (insert the rest of his answer here).

    The problem was not the well reasoned answer. It was the seeming lack of emotional response to the hypothetical of his wife being raped and murdered.

  6. nobamakoolaid says:

    I still can’t get past the image of those Mickey Mouse ears in the “Snoopy” incident or the smurf suit at NASA. But one thing to remember, Dukakis was way ahead of Bush in the polls in February of ’88 but lost 40 states in the election, including Illinois and California. The Dems better not get too comfortable.

  7. mlmonterey says:

    All this is con mucho corazon y valor, but “show me the money” and I’ll show you the way to usurp power over whatever rational altuistic project you have in mind, which is actually paraphrasing a certain Baron von Rothschild, re: contolling the money (economy) of a nation. Controlling the economy automates controlling the politics, ie, if voting could effect systemic change it would be outlawed. On the other hand, a guy with the middle name “Hussein” might be able to lead a tide turning movement toward political and fiscal sanity in the USA. It could be as natural as the return stroke of a pendulum wildly swung by a bunch of oily yokel-elitists called “Neocons” of “Neolibs” or just Jingoist, anarcho-fascists. Ponder this, if you dare, did the anarcho-syndicalists of early 20th century spain, icur the wrath of the ecocidal capitalists because they were so different, ormbecaue they were so similar, yet superior? For more pungent vermifuge and supra-post-autistic economics, see >>

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