Bankrupt Capital Punishment

An example of frame transformation can be for example where some of the 4,000 jurists members of the venerable American Law Institute over time came to see the death penalty, which they had promoted and managed for decades, as a moral and practical failure.

They disbanded the organization last fall. Though they themselves developed the modern death penalty in 1962, and were the death penalty’s intellectual and juridical champions, they ended throwing up their hands at what they came to see as “intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.” After decades of honing the death penalty in the US, capital punishment was ultimately observed in an ALI-commissioned study to be used unfairly; it was usually racist; it was enormously expensive, though legal defenders received almost no compensation for their work; it was riddled with politics; and innocent people tended to be executed.

Like Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the American Law Institute as an organization traveled from seeing capital punishment as jurisprudence necessary to securing the good society, to seeing it as the state “tinker(ing) with the machinery of death.”


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