The Law: Death and Confusion at the Court

When Gary Mark Gilmore's mother appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court last week to stay his imminent execution, she raised anew the fundamental question: Is the death penalty constitutional?

Fittingly enough, Bessie Gilmore's attorney was Professor Anthony G. Amsterdam of Stanford, the man who had helped persuade the Supreme Court to answer that question in the negative. Or so the answer seemed to be in 1972. when the Justices ruled that the "arbitrary" and "freakish" way death sentences were imposed made them unacceptable. But when several states began writing more limited and more specific...

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