Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has written a detailed explanation of why he changed his mind about capital punishment, which he voted to reinstate in the U.S. in 1976 but now says is unconstitutional. In an essay in The New York Review of Books, Stevens says his late-career shift came after activist conservative justices handed down rulings that made executions more common, and less fair. Now, Stevens says, the capital punishment system is tinged with racism and politics. Will Stevens' candor change the way Americans view the death penalty? (Watch Stevens' "60 Minutes" interview)

Lawmakers should listen up: Unfortunately, Stevens can't change policy now that he is retired, says Jessica Pieklo at But his honesty is "refreshing," especially since the court's tradition of congeniality prohibits sitting justices from criticizing each other. Let's hope Stevens' candor will inspire politicians to "take the kind of bold action" necessary to end a system "that does nothing but mock our constitutional principles."
"Justice Stevens: Death penalty unconstitutional"

Stevens does not make a convincing case: Stevens might be more convincing, says law professor Ann Althouse at her blog, if he didn't dismiss the rights of murder victims by saying that they're already dead. He's conveniently overlooking recent research that undermines the "old assumption that the death penalty has no deterrent effect." Making murder a "heavily punished crime" prevents "some people from becoming victims," and that's more important than Stevens' doubts.
"Justice John Paul Stevens writes about the death penalty ..."

This helps shine more light on the Supreme Court: No matter how it affects the death penalty debate, says Adam Liptak in The New York Times, this essay is "remarkable." At 90, not only is Stevens "speaking his mind on issues that may have been off limits while he was on the court," he is being more "provocative" than his fellow Supreme Court retirees Sandra Day O'Connor and David Souter. Stevens may be "forging a new model of what to expect from Supreme Court justices after they leave the bench."
"Ex-justice criticizes death penalty"