Against Capital Punishment: The Anti-Death Penalty Movement in America, 1972-1994

By Herbert H. Haines | Go to book overview

1
The Fall and Rise of Capital Punishment: 1965-1976

Leslie Horton, awaiting execution for rape in Florida, was enjoying a visit with his family the morning of June 29, 1972, when a guard stepped in and asked "Can you stand some more good news today?" The Supreme Court, the guard informed him, had just abolished the death penalty. Earlier that morning, Chief Justice Warren Burger had announced the Court's decision in the case of Furman v. Georgia ( 408 U.S. 238, 1972), which by the narrowest of margins declared all existing capital statutes in the United States to be in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

Eighty of the other 86 death-sentenced prisoners at the Florida State Prison Farm got the good news from the radio as they returned from watching a Clint Eastwood movie. Death row erupted in "hollering, hooting, and the exuberant rattling of cell doors." Some shouted "Right on, Mr. Justices." Some mockingly cursed President Nixon, who had campaigned on a punitive "law and order" platform. And at least one wept with joy ( Waldron 1972).

Elsewhere, the response was less enthusiastic. President Nixon reiterated his belief that capital punishment is a superior deterrent to violent crime, and told reporters that he hoped the ruling would not extend to federal death sentences for kidnapping and hijacking ( Robbins 1972). Jere Beasley, the lieutenant governor of Alabama, fumed that "a majority of this nation's highest court has lost contact with the real world." His counterpart in Georgia, Lester Maddox, called the decision "a license for anarchy, rape, murder" (quoted by Meltsner 1973:290). Police chiefs were nearly unanimous in their condemnation of the Court's action. Gallup polls were soon reporting a sharp realignment of popular opinion in favor of capital punishment ( Zimring and Hawkins 1986:39-40).


The Road to Furman: 1965-1972

A decade earlier, anyone suggesting that the nation's highest court would ever render a judgment like Furman would not have been taken seriously. Debates

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Against Capital Punishment: The Anti-Death Penalty Movement in America, 1972-1994
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction: Death Penalty Abolitionism in America 3
  • 1 - The Fall and Rise of Capital Punishment: 1965-1976 23
  • 2 - The Return of the Executioner: 1976-1982 55
  • Summary 71
  • 3 - The Reemergence of Political Abolitionism 73
  • 4 - Framing Disputes in the Movement Against Capital Punishment 117
  • 5 - Abolitionism at the Crossroads 148
  • 6 - Reframing Capital Punishment: Pragmatic Abolitionism 167
  • Notes 197
  • References 221
  • Index 239
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