The Law: Delay on the Death Penalty

Although 14 American states—and most Western nations—have substantially abolished the death penalty, the Supreme Court has thus far declined to rule on its constitutionality. Last fall the court agreed to review the conviction of William Maxwell, 30, an Arkansas Negro sentenced to death in 1962 for the rape of a white woman. But the case covered only the procedures by which capital punishment is imposed; it excluded the key puzzle of whether capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment guarantee against "cruel and unusual punishment." Last week the court avoided even the questions it had earlier agreed to...

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