Provocative reading for anyone concerned about the intersection of race and capital punishment.

READ REVIEW

KILLING WITH PREJUDICE

INSTITUTIONALIZED RACISM IN AMERICAN CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

The story of the Supreme Court decision McCleskey v. Kemp (1987), which underscores “the lingering racial and socioeconomic inequalities endemic to capital punishment in the United States.”

In 1978 in Atlanta, Georgia, Warren McCleskey, an African-American, was arrested for killing a white police officer during a furniture store robbery. After years of litigation, writes Maratea (The Politics of the Internet: Political Claims-making in Cyberspace and How It’s Affecting Modern Political Activism, 2014, etc.), his death penalty sentencing was upheld by the Supreme Court in a decision that overlooked “compelling empirical data suggesting that Georgia’s death process was replete with systemic racial bias.” McCleskey was executed in 1991. In this thoughtful and disturbing account, the author traces the story of the case. He argues not that McCleskey was innocent but that he was sentenced to death under a system in which killers of white people were four times more likely as killers of blacks to be sentenced to death. The latter assertion, made by McCleskey’s lawyers, was based on a “detailed and peer-reviewed” study of 2,500 Georgia murder cases by University of Iowa law professor David C. Baldus. He concluded that all individuals convicted of murdering whites were far more likely to receive the death penalty. In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the defense failed to show evidence of deliberate bias by law officials and dismissed the data on disparities in sentencing as inevitable in the criminal justice system. Noting that the decision “affirmed institutionalized racial disparities” in the capital punishment system, Maratea examines the force of “old habits of mind and racial attitudes” going back to the Civil War era. He finds that “capital punishment has borne a close resemblance to lynching in Georgia, where more extralegal executions of black Americans occurred than in any other state.” As lynchings declined in the 20th-century South, “the infliction of the death penalty by the courts increased,” according to historian William S. McFeely.

Provocative reading for anyone concerned about the intersection of race and capital punishment.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4798-8860-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author’s consistently absorbing commentary on a wide variety of legal cases will require close attention by readers, but...

THE MAKING OF A JUSTICE

REFLECTIONS ON MY FIRST 94 YEARS

The retired Supreme Court justice chronicles his impressive life story, including his 34-year tenure with the court.

Born in 1920, Stevens (Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, 2014, etc.) recounts his privileged upbringing, early law career, and lower-court experience before providing nearly 400 pages of year-by-year decision-making as a Supreme Court justice. A Republican appointed by President Gerald Ford, Stevens transcended the party ideology of many court colleagues in order to work together with those appointed by Democratic presidents. Despite the conventional wisdom of court chroniclers who identify justices as “conservative” or “liberal,” the author’s majority opinions and dissents cannot be easily pigeonholed. He candidly shares his thought processes on hundreds of cases, often openly criticizing his fellow justices for their lack of legal acumen and/or lack of compassion. Stevens is frequently critical of justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for the refuge they have sought in the theory of originalism. Refreshingly, though, the author never attacks his fellow justices in a personal, gossipy manner, and he discusses his varying degrees of friendship with each of them. Stevens theorizes that the dynamics of the court—and the nature of the rulings—undergo transformation every time a new justice joins. As a result, the author presents brief sections about the immediate impact of each new justice during his 34 years, ending with his successor in 2010, Elena Kagan. Although Stevens reveres the court’s reputation as a nonpartisan arbiter, he realizes that reputation has never fully recovered from the politically tinged 5-4 ruling in 2000 that handed the presidency to George W. Bush rather than Al Gore. The author also offers searing commentary on cases involving abortion rights, gun control, wrongful convictions in criminal courts, campaign finance, and many other ongoing societal issues.

The author’s consistently absorbing commentary on a wide variety of legal cases will require close attention by readers, but the payoff is worth it.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-48964-5

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A thorough, albeit somewhat premature, biographical portrait.

THE CHIEF

THE LIFE AND TURBULENT TIMES OF CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS

Digging into the life career of the elusive chief justice.

CNN legal analyst Biskupic, who was the Supreme Court correspondent at the Washington Post and has written biographies on Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, and Sandra Day O’Connor, is perfectly positioned to dissect the first decade-plus tenure of Chief Justice John Roberts (b. 1955). Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005 after the sudden death of William Rehnquist, Roberts, at only age 50, was chosen for his conservative bona fides, his Ivy League education, the many cases he had argued before the Supreme Court, and his resistant views on affirmative action and voting rights, among other expressed opinions. Indeed, in his general approach to law, Roberts has proven that he is, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared, “born conservative.” Yet he has also made some intriguing decisions—e.g., finding the core of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare—the provision upholding the individual insurance mandate—constitutional in the watershed case National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012). While his 2013 Selby County v. Holder decision “eviscerating a key section of the Voting Rights Act” addressed what he perceived as the “failure of racial remedies in America”—as Biskupic writes, it “marked the first time since the 19th century that the Supreme Court struck down a civil rights law protecting people based on race”—he seems, on the basis of other rulings, concerned that his court is delineated solely along political lines. After Scalia’s death in February 2016, the court was left without a successor for more than 400 days thanks to political maneuvering and the Republican blocking of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland—a difficult period for the court. As the author demonstrates in her incisive analysis, the 5-4 “conservative-liberal fault line” has prevailed—e.g., in the upholding of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.

A thorough, albeit somewhat premature, biographical portrait.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-465-09327-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more