Furman v. Georgia: Debating the Death Penalty

Furman v. Georgia: Debating the Death Penalty

Furman v. Georgia: Debating the Death Penalty

Furman v. Georgia: Debating the Death Penalty

Synopsis

The impact and ramifications of cases argued before the Supreme Court are felt for decades, if not centuries. Only the most important issues of the day and the land make it to the nine justices, and the effects of their decisions reach far beyond the litigants. Under discussion here are five of the most momentous Supreme Court cases ever. They include Marbury v. Madison, Roe v. Wade, Dred Scott, Brown v. Board of Education, and The Pentagon Papers. An absorbing exploration of enormously controversial events, the series details, highlights, and clarifies the complex legal arguments of both sides. Placing the cases within their historical context (though they ultimately emerge as works in progress), the authors reveal each decision's relevance both to the past and the present. the result is a fascinating glimpse across the centuries into the workings of the Supreme Court and the American judicial system.

Excerpt

Ninety-nine convicts in a Florida prison watched the cop movie Dirty Harry on June 39, 1972. Just after the movie ended, a guard passed them a piece of news. The men reacted immediately. [We laughed, we whooped, we hollered and shook the doors,] said a convict named Calvin Campbell. What news had caused this celebration? The men were on Death Row, sentenced to capital punishment for their crimes. And the U.S. Supreme Court, in one of the most controversial decisions of its history, had just handed down a ruling that would save their lives.

The death penalty, the Court had declared, was unconstitutional. As it was being applied in the United States at the time, it violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bans [cruel and unusual punishments.]

Six hundred and twenty-nine people were under sentence of death in prisons across the United States on that day. Each one of them was spared execution. A few of them received new trials. Most of them had their sentences changed to life in prison, although many were later released on parole. Years later, legal journalist Joan Cheever tracked down one of these released convicts, a man named William Henry Furman. He had been one of . . .

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