National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1970-1987: We wrestle with our democratic freedoms, arguing issues old and new

June 29, 1972
The Supreme Court overturns all state death penalty laws

The electric chair and Sing Sing prison

“The Eighth and 14th Amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed.”
–Justice Potter Stewart
Furman v. Georgia

They all wrote separate opinions, but five Supreme Court Justices have agreed on one thing: because state death penalty laws are applied in an “arbitrary and capricious” way, they violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The debate among the Justices mirrors the debate among citizens. Opponents say the death penalty itself is cruel and unusual. Supporters say it’s a deterrent.

Today’s decision won’t end the debate. But it will end executions until states write laws that make use of the death penalty more predictable and uniform.

Read about it in the New York times

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