Law: Clearing A Path to the Chair

The Supreme Court rejects a key legal challenge to the death penalty

Nearly eleven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, provided that it not be applied arbitrarily and capriciously. Today 37 states have death-penalty laws, and since 1976, 69 condemned men and one woman have been electrocuted, gassed, shot or given lethal injections. With almost 1,900 others awaiting execution, prisoners' attorneys have presented one legal objection after another to the high court, most without success. Last week, in what may prove to be their final major challenge, opponents of capital punishment were handed a stunning defeat.

The setback came in the case of Warren McCleskey, a black man convicted...

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