Monday, January 7, 2008

Secrecy, rights, and capital punishment

This morning the Supreme Court took on the 1st of 2 cases this Term that pose broad-based challenges to capital punishment in the United States.
Argument was heard in Baze v. Rees. As is evident in the audio tape and transcript, it calls upon the Justices to determine whether the procedure, or "protocol," that the state of Kentucky uses to execute by means of lethal injection violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments. (In the just-granted 2d case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, to be heard in April, the Court will consider whether the 8th Amendment forbids execution for rape of a child that does not result in the child's death.)
As the Los Angeles Times' Henry Weinstein reports, judges have ruled lethal injection protocols unconstitutional in California, Missouri and Tennessee. Weinstein's article focuses on the treatment of the execution procedures as state secrets; it quotes from this passage by our colleague Alison J. Nathan (right):

'What we know about how states and the federal government currently execute people in the United States is deeply troubling. But the real danger of lethal injection as currently practiced lies in what we do not know.'

Executions are news in China, too. The 1,051 executions in that country in 2006 constituted 2/3 of all capital punishments that year. "Yet because of state secrecy some activists believe that the number of executions could be as high as 10,000 to 15,000 a year" in China, according to another Los Angeles Times report. That's been a criminal punishment constant in China; what's news is this: China's believed to have "scaled back the pace of executions" in the runup to this summer's Beijing Olympics. The Times' John M. Glionna writes:

The reforms, advocated by a growing lobby of Chinese lawyers and scholars, are part of a policy that officials call 'kill fewer, kill carefully.' It calls for improved trial and review processes, and requires that all death penalty appeals be heard in open court.

If true, it's further evidence of the odd and incremental, though not unwelcome, event we noted earlier: a linkage between the Olympics and human rights.

1 comment:

Diane Marie Amann said...

Also this morning: A Los Angeles Times editorial calling "for the court to conduct a more searching analysis of capital punishment in America, a penalty that is imposed so unevenly that it mocks the court's motto of 'Equal Justice Under Law.'" http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-death7jan07,0,7565376.story?coll=la-opinion-leftrail