How Long Is Too Long For Death Row Inmates?


Thirty-two years is a long time for a death-row inmate to contemplate his pending execution. But is it so long that it violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment? The Christian Science Monitor says that was the issue at the heart of an appeal filed at the US Supreme Court on behalf of Florida death-row inmate William Lee Thompson. This week, the high court announced that it would not take up Mr. Thompson’s case. The denial touched off a heated debate among three justices, including a harsh critique of capital punishment in America by Justice John Paul Stevens.

The exchange took place in written comments about the dismissed appeal. In addition to Justice Stevens, Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas submitted comments. The exchange offers insight into what may be an intensifying disagreement between the liberal and conservative wings of the high court over the future direction of the Supreme Court’s death-penalty jurisprudence. For 14 years, Justices Stevens and Breyer have been urging the court to hear cases examining whether long delays in carrying out executions amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

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