Provocative reading for anyone concerned about the intersection of race and 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

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A careful, informed analysis of the origins, progress and disposition of the complex, high-stakes legal disputes that find...



In her first book, the National Law Journal’s longtime chief Washington correspondent examines the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, seven years after the appointment of the youngest chief justice since John Marshall.

Along with her credentials as a lawyer, Coyle brings 25 years of reporting on the high court to this careful unpacking of select, enormously consequential, 5-4 decisions, supplying useful and colorful context about the litigants, lawyers, politics and legal precedent. She’s especially good on the maneuvering of various special interest groups to identify, frame and shepherd particular cases through the legal system, all with a hopeful eye toward eventual Supreme Court review. These ingredients come together most successfully in her smooth discussion of the right to bear arms at issue in Heller, the most important Second Amendment case ever, her handling of two cases emerging from the racial diversity plans of school boards in Louisville and Seattle, and her treatment of the widely controversial Citizens United, where free speech and campaign finance law collided. Perhaps the court’s recent momentous ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act accounts for the deficiencies of this least-satisfying chapter. There’s a richer story to tell, and Coyle doesn’t appear to have all the goods. Otherwise, this is the best popular account so far of the Roberts-led court, about the varied background and clashing philosophies of the justices, the careful crafting of arguments to secure five votes, the court’s continually shifting center of gravity and the peculiar burden that rests with the chief justice. Coyle clearly disapproves of the court’s conservative bent, but she gives all sides a fair, respectful hearing and demonstrates her own reverence for the institution.

A careful, informed analysis of the origins, progress and disposition of the complex, high-stakes legal disputes that find their way to the court.

Pub Date: May 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2751-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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A tenacious attempt to answer the question, “How do ordinary little human cogs make up a torture machine?”



Through the grim travails of one of Saddam Hussein’s top generals, journalist Steavenson (Stories I Stole, 2003) examines the dictator’s edifice of totalitarianism and moral corruption.

Taking her title from a verse of the Koran promising to mete out justice even to the “weight of a mustard seed,” the author weaves a fascinating account of how good men went terribly wrong. Steavenson worked as a journalist in Baghdad in 2003–04 and continued her interviews of exiled Iraqis in London and elsewhere, probing deeply into the stories of former Baath Party officials. Through a high-level Iraqi doctor who had served in the medical corps during the course of four Iraqi wars, the author was put in touch with the surviving family of Kamel Sachet, a commander of the special forces and general in charge of the army in Kuwait City during the Gulf War. The general was shot as a traitor by order of the Iraqi president in 1998. Born to an illiterate family in 1947, Sachet became a policeman and then joined the special forces, rising through the ranks to major. He distinguished himself during the Iran-Iraq war, gaining Hussein’s trust but also his occasional ire, which led to prison and torture. Sachet led the assault into Kuwait, but with the retreat and subsequent scourge by the United States, he became disillusioned with the violence and bloodshed and retired as a devout Muslim. Steavenson ably explores his and others’ obedience in fulfilling the dictator’s grisly demands, echoing works by Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi and Stanley Milgram.

A tenacious attempt to answer the question, “How do ordinary little human cogs make up a torture machine?”

Pub Date: March 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-172178-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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