The Law: Reconsidering the Death Penalty

At lunch in the U.S. Supreme Court dining room recently, two of the Justices were chatting about the court's reconsideration of the death penalty, the third time in the past four years that the subject has been before the high bench for full review. "I don't see why the rest of us have to sit through this again," joked one Justice. "Potter, Byron and John Stevens could decide this one by themselves."

The arithmetic underlying that gallows humor, reports TIME Supreme Court Correspondent David Beckwith, should be chilling to those who last week presented...