There were some other numbers worth noting 33 inmates on Illinois' death row were represented at trial by lawyers who've since been disbarred or suspended, and a third of those sentenced to death row in the state in the past 23 years had their sentences reversed later. "This is a ringing indictment of the Supreme Court's inability to properly interpret and oversee the Constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment," says TIME legal writer Alain Sanders. "While conservatives and liberals agree that those guilty of crimes need to be punished, the courts must hold to a higher scrutiny punishments that are irreversible, such as death."
Calls to repeal or revamp capital punishment have snowballed in the past few years (with much of the impetus coming from outside the U.S., which remains the only Western country with the death penalty). Opposition groups celebrated in 1987 when the Supreme Court agreed to hear McClesky v. Kemp, which questioned the constitutionality of executions in Georgia, where, the suit alleged, the death penalty was sought considerably more often in cases involving white victims than it was when the victims were black. The Court decided in favor of Georgia. Then last year the Nebraska legislature, concerned about what it saw as the overrepresentation of minorities on death row, voted in favor of a permanent moratorium. The vote was vetoed by Gov. Mike Johanns. And now Illinois. As the judicial and political wheels slowly turn in addressing the issues involved in capital punishment, only one thing is clear we haven't heard the final word.