Capital Punishment: The One Vote Justice Stevens Would Have Changed

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Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Justice Stevens says that his vote to uphold capital punishment in 1976, which overthrew a four-year "de facto moratorium" on the death penalty, was "the one vote I would change" in his 35-year tenure. "I thought at the time ... that if the universe of defendants eligible for the death penalty is sufficiently narrow so that you can be confident that the defendant really merits that severe punishment, that the death penalty was appropriate," he says. But as hard-line justices replaced moderates, interpretation opened the door for prosecution-friendly tactics like allowing objections to jurors who have issues with the death penalty. "I really think that the death penalty today is vastly different from the death penalty that we thought we were authorizing."

Justice Stevens: An Open Mind On A Changed Court [NPR]