Capital Punishment

Justice Stevens: I Regret Death Penalty

In 1976, recently retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens voted to uphold the death penalty—the one decision in his 35 years on the highest bench that he now says he regrets. Now calling his decision “incorrect,” Stevens says that the 1976 court “did not foresee how it would be interpreted.” He explains, "I thought at the time ... that if the universe of defendants eligible for the death penalty is sufficiently narrow so that you can be confident that the defendant really merits that severe punishment, that the death penalty was appropriate.” However, “the court constantly expanded the cases eligible for the death penalty, so that the underlying premise for my vote has disappeared, in a sense." The Supreme Court will consider several death-penalty cases in the term that begins Monday.