The Death Penalty in America
ACS Resources and Analysis
ACS Condemns the Death Penalty
The American Constitution Society advocates for the abolition of the death penalty. We condemn the cruelty and racism inherent in the death penalty and provide programming and resources to help foster greater understanding of the racial disparities and constitutional problems in the administration of the death penalty.
In July 2020, after a 17-year moratorium, the U.S. Justice Department resumed executions of federal prisoners sentenced to death. This led to an unprecedented killing spree that, in six short months, resulted in thirteen executions, including six Black men, and the only woman and only Native American on federal death row. But momentum for death penalty abolition is increasing, in part due to a national reckoning with the racially unjust administration of the death penalty and the litany of exonerations of people previously sentenced to death (170 and counting).
As a candidate, President Biden declared that, “Because we can’t ensure that we get these cases right every time, we must eliminate the death penalty.” The Biden-Harris administration now has an opportunity to lead, and secure the president’s legacy, by commuting the death sentences of the remaining forty-six men on federal death row and setting an example for the rest of the nation.
ACS has and will continue to hold national and chapter events about the lack of effective representation for the accused, the use of junk science, unjust and unnecessary limits on judicial review, as well as the institutional racism that plagues our criminal legal systems and the death penalty. We will continue to advocate for the commutation of federal death row and the abolition of this archaic practice, both federally and at the state level.
ACS Death Penalty Statements
- Killing of Corey Johnson, Dustin Higgs Cements Administration’s Cruel, Deadly and Racist Legacy (January 15, 2021)
- ACS President Condemns Execution of Lisa Montgomery, First Woman Executed by U.S. in 67 Years (January 13, 2021)
- Trump Administration Should Halt Executions (December 10, 2020)
- Orlando Hall’s Execution Continues Administration’s Unprecedented Blood Lust at the Expense of Justice (November 20, 2020)
- Christopher Vialva is First Man in 70 Years to be Executed for Crimes Committed as a Teenager (September 24, 2020)
- William LeCroy’s Execution Part of “Stunning and Disturbing Trends” (September 22, 2020)
- Keith Nelson’s Execution Was No Act of Justice (August 28, 2020)
- Extinguishing Lezmond Mitchell’s Life Was A Horrible Choice (August 26, 2020)
- Dustin Honken Executed (July 17, 2020)
- Wesley Purkey’s Execution Is an Affront to the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court’s Own Precedent (July 16, 2020)
- Daniel Lewis Lee Executed: First Federal Execution in 17 Years (July 14, 2020)
- Just Ahead of First Federal Executions in 17 Years, ACS President Russ Feingold Condemns the Cruelty and Racism Inherent in the Death Penalty (July 9, 2020)
Videos: ACS Death Penalty Events
ACS President Russ Feingold on the Federal Death Penalty
(November 19, 2020)
Is the End in Sight? The Questionable Future of Capital Punishment in America
ACS Webinar (November 19, 2020)
For the first time in our nation’s history, half of all states in the country have either outright banned or declared moratoria on capital punishment. Even in states that maintain the death penalty, capital prosecutions and executions have steadily declined in recent years, with just four counties in Texas and one in Missouri accounting for over fifty percent of executions in the past ten years. At the same time, support for capital punishment is at a near half-century low, with sixty percent of Americans supporting life in prison over the death penalty. What do these trends tell us about the future of the death penalty in America? Can we continue to justify its use as we attempt to reckon with the estimated 170 people previously sentenced to death who have been exonerated and the overwhelming evidence of racism in its application? When a penalty is imposed so infrequently and seemingly arbitrarily based on geography, race, and even happenstance, can it survive good-faith constitutional scrutiny?
Speakers: Maurice Chammah, Staff Writer for the Marshall Project, Author of the forthcoming book Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty; Terrica Redfield Ganzy, Deputy Director at the Southern Center for Human Rights; Sam Kamin, Professor of Law at University of Denver, Sturm College of Law; Laura Porter, Executive Director of the 8th Amendment Project; and Russ Feingold, ACS President, Moderator.
A Fear of Too Much Justice: Confronting Systemic Racism in the Death Penalty
ACS Webinar (October 1, 2020)
Half a century after Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart decried systemic racism in the administration of the death penalty, Black, Latinx, and Native American people continue to be disproportionately represented on the federal and state death rows. Meanwhile, crimes against white victims are the ones for which the death penalty are overwhelmingly sought. And yet, for the past thirty years, the U.S. Supreme Court has thwarted efforts to challenge systemic racism in the death penalty based on what Justice William Brennan characterized as “a fear of too much justice.”
Join the American Constitution Society for an examination of what led to and perpetuates the stark racial disparities in the death penalty and how can they be addressed at both the state and federal level.
Speakers: Catherine M. Grosso, Professor of Law, Michigan State University; Henderson Hill, Senior Counsel, ACLU Capital Punishment Project; Alexis Hoag, Associate Research Scholar in the Faculty of Law; Lecturer in Law, Columbia Law School; and Liliana Segura, Senior Reporter, The Intercept, Moderator
Tinkering with the Machinery of Death: Resuming Federal Executions
ACS Webinar (July 9, 2020)
Experts discuss the reasons for the nearly 20-year moratorium on federal executions, and the concerns over this quick succession of executions planned for this summer in the face of continued criticism that the death penalty is arbitrary, racially biased, and plagued by poor, under-resourced lawyering.
Speakers: Gary Tyler, Former Death Row Inmate, Outreach and Engagement Support Worker, Safe Place for Youth; Miriam Gohara, Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Yale Law School; Megan McCracken, Eighth Amendment Resource Counsel; and Russ Feingold, ACS President, Moderator.
The Dangers of Injecting Secrecy into the Death Penalty
ACS National Convention (2015)
Speakers: Adam Liptak, Supreme Court Correspondent, The New York Times; Mark Earley, Founder and Principal, Earley Legal Group; Member, Death Penalty Committee, The Constitution Project; Tanya Greene, Advocacy and Policy Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union; Megan McCracken, Eighth Amendment Resource Counsel; Katie Townsend, Litigation Director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Death Penalty Resources
ACS Expert Forum Blogs and Op-Eds
- Russ Feingold, It’s Time to End the Federal Death Penalty And Empty Death Row (2021)
- Stephen Larson, As a former federal prosecutor and judge, I believe Lisa Montgomery deserves clemency (2021)
- Gary McClung, Jr., I served on Brandon Bernard’s jury, and I believe his death sentence is wrong (2020)
- Frances Miles, Respect Jurors (2020)
- Rebecca E. Woodman, Wesley Purkey’s Execution Should Shock America’s Conscience (2020)
- Russ Feingold & Keith Harper, Another broken promise by the United States(2020)
- Frederick Gedicks, Dunn v. Ray: We Should Have Seen This Coming (2019)
- Ron Honberg, Executing People with Serious Mental Illness — Like Wesley Purkey — Is Wrong (2019)
- Brandon Garrett, An End for a Rare, Biased Penalty (2018)
- Richard Lorenc, Jury’s Anti-Gay Prejudice Must Not Send a Man to His Death (2018)
- SprearIt, Repackaging Abolition: Targeting Christians, Conservatives (2017)
- Emily Olson-Gault, “Show me the proof…before you can get the proof”: Ayestas offers the Court the chance to fix a paradoxical and unfair standard in death penalty cases (2017)
- John H. Blume and Brendan Van Winkle, Death Penalty: Determine If Capital Punishment Has Outlived Its Use (2020)
- American Constitution Society Program Guide, Combatting Anti-Black Racism Through Law and Policy (2020)
Broken Law Episode
- Eve Primus, Litigating Federal Habeas Corpus Cases: One Equitable Gateway at a Time (2018)
- Scott Phillips, Hire a Lawyer, Escape the Death Penalty (2010)
SCOTUS Review Journal
- Carol Steiker & Jordan Steiker, Capital Punishment in the Supreme Court 2018 Term (2019)