Furman v. Georgia/Dissent Powell

Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), was a United States Supreme Court decision that ruled on the requirement for a degree of consistency in the application of the death penalty. The Court consolidated Jackson v. Georgia and Branch v. Texas with the Furman decision, and thus also invalidated the death penalty for rape. Excerpted from Furman v. Georgia on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


The Court granted certiorari in these cases to consider whether the death penalty is any longer a permissible form of punishment. 403 U.S. 952 (1971). It is the judgment of five Justices that the death penalty, as customarily prescribed and implemented in this country today, offends the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. The reasons for that judgment are stated in five separate opinions, expressing as many separate rationales. In my view, none of these opinions provides a constitutionally adequate foundation for the Court's decision. [p415]

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS concludes that capital punishment is incompatible with notions of "equal protection" that he finds to be "implicit" in the Eighth Amendment. Ante at 257. MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN bases his judgment primarily on the thesis that the penalty "does not comport with human dignity." Ante at 270. MR. JUSTICE STEWART concludes that the penalty is applied in a "wanton" and "freakish" manner. Ante at 310. For MR. JUSTICE WHITE, it is the "infrequency" with which the penalty is imposed that renders its use unconstitutional. Ante at 313. MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL finds that capital punishment is an impermissible form of punishment because it is "morally unacceptable" and "excessive." Ante at 360, 358.

Although the central theme of petitioners' presentations in these cases is that the imposition of the death penalty is per se unconstitutional, only two of today's opinions explicitly conclude that so sweeping a determination is mandated by the Constitution. Both MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL call for the abolition of all existing state and federal capital punishment statutes. They intimate as well that no capital statute could be devised in the future that might comport with the Eighth Amendment. While the practical consequences of the other three opinions are less certain, they at least do not purport to render impermissible every possible statutory scheme for the use of capital punishment that legislatures might hereafter devise. [1] Insofar as these latter opinions fail, at least explicitly, [p416] to go as far as petitioners' contentions would carry them, their reservations are attributable to a willingness to accept only a portion of petitioners' thesis. For the reasons cogently set out in the CHIEF JUSTICE's dissenting opinion (ante at 396-403), and for reasons stated elsewhere in this opinion, I find my Brothers' "less than absolute abolition" judgments unpersuasive. Because those judgments are, for me, not dispositive, I shall focus primarily on the broader ground upon which the petitions in these cases are premised. The foundations of my disagreement with that broader thesis are equally applicable to each of the concurring opinions. I will, therefore, not endeavor to treat each one separately. Nor will I attempt to predict what forms of capital statutes, if any, may avoid condemnation in the future under the variety of views expressed by the collective majority today. That difficult task, not performed in any of the controlling opinions, must go unanswered until other cases presenting these more limited inquiries arise.

Whatever uncertainties may hereafter surface, several of the consequences of today's decision are unmistakably clear. The decision is plainly one of the greatest importance. [p417] The Court's judgment removes the death sentences previously imposed on some 600 persons awaiting punishment in state and federal prisons throughout the country. At least for the present, it also bars the States and the Federal Government from seeking sentences of death for defendants awaiting trial on charges for which capital punishment was heretofore a potential alternative. The happy event for these countable few constitutes, however, only the most visible consequence of this decision. Less measurable, but certainly of no less significance, is the shattering effect this collection of views has on the root principles of stare decisis, federalism, judicial restraint, and — most importantly — separation of powers.

The Court rejects as not decisive the clearest evidence that the Framers of the Constitution and the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment believed that those documents posed no barrier to the death penalty. The Court also brushes aside an unbroken line of precedent reaffirming the heretofore virtually unquestioned constitutionality of capital punishment. Because of the pervasiveness of the constitutional ruling sought by petitioners, and accepted in varying degrees by five members of the Court, today's departure from established precedent invalidates a staggering number of state and federal laws. The capital punishment laws of no less than 39 States [2] and the District of Columbia are nullified. In addition, numerous provisions of the Criminal Code of the United States and of the Uniform Code of Military [p418] Justice also are voided. The Court's judgment not only wipes out laws presently in existence, but denies to Congress and to the legislatures of the 50 States the power to adopt new policies contrary to the policy selected by the Court. Indeed, it is the view of two of my Brothers that the people of each State must be denied the prerogative to amend their constitutions to provide for capital punishment even selectively for the most heinous crime.

In terms of the constitutional role of this Court, the impact of the majority's ruling is all the greater because the decision encroaches upon an area squarely within the historic prerogative of the legislative branch — both state and federal — to protect the citizenry through the designation of penalties for prohibitable conduct. It is the very sort of judgment that the legislative branch is competent to make, and for which the judiciary is ill-equipped. Throughout our history, Justices of this Court have emphasized the gravity of decisions invalidating legislative judgments, admonishing the nine men who sit on this bench of the duty of self-restraint, especially when called upon to apply the expansive due process and cruel and unusual punishment rubrics. I can recall no case in which, in the name of deciding constitutional questions, this Court has subordinated national and local democratic processes to such an extent. Before turning to address the thesis of petitioners' case against capital punishment — a thesis that has proved, at least in large measure, persuasive to a majority of this Court — I first will set out the principles that counsel against the Court's sweeping decision.


The Constitution itself poses the first obstacle to petitioners' argument that capital punishment is per se unconstitutional. The relevant provisions are the Fifth, [p419] Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The first of these provides in part:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury . . . ; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; . . . nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. . . .

Thus, the Federal Government's power was restricted in order to guarantee those charged with crimes that the prosecution would have only a single opportunity to seek imposition of the death penalty, and that the death penalty could not be exacted without due process and a grand jury indictment. The Fourteenth Amendment, adopted about 77 years after the Bill of Rights, imposed the due process limitation of the Fifth Amendment upon the States' power to authorize capital punishment.

The Eighth Amendment, adopted at the same time as the Fifth, proscribes "cruel and unusual" punishments. In an effort to discern its meaning, much has been written about its history in the opinions of this Court and elsewhere. [3] That history need not be restated here since, whatever punishments the Framers of the Constitution may have intended to prohibit under the "cruel and unusual" language, there cannot be the slightest doubt that they intended no absolute bar on the Government's authority to impose the death penalty. McGautha v. [p420] California, 402 U.S. 183, 226 (1971) (separate opinion of Black, J.). As much is made clear by the three references to capital punishment in the Fifth Amendment. Indeed, the same body that proposed the Eighth Amendment also provided, in the first Crimes Act of 1790, for the death penalty for a number of offenses. 1 Stat. 112.

Of course, the specific prohibitions within the Bill of Rights are limitations on the exercise of power; they are not an affirmative grant of power to the Government. I, therefore, do not read the several references to capital punishment as foreclosing this Court from considering whether the death penalty in a particular case offends the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Nor are "cruel and unusual punishments" and "due process of law" static concepts whose meaning and scope were sealed at the time of their writing. They were designed to be dynamic and to gain meaning through application to specific circumstances, many of which were not contemplated by their authors. While flexibility in the application of these broad concepts is one of the hallmarks of our system of government, the Court is not free to read into the Constitution a meaning that is plainly at variance with its language. Both the language of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and the history of the Eighth Amendment confirm beyond doubt that the death penalty was considered to be a constitutionally permissible punishment. It is, however, within the historic process of constitutional adjudication to challenge the imposition of the death penalty in some barbaric manner or as a penalty wholly disproportionate to a particular criminal act. And in making such a judgment in a case before it, a court may consider contemporary standards to the extent they are relevant. While this weighing of a punishment against the Eighth Amendment standard on a case-by-case basis is consonant with history and precedent, it is not what [p421] petitioners demand in these cases. They seek nothing less than the total abolition of capital punishment by judicial fiat.


Petitioners assert that the constitutional issue is an open one uncontrolled by prior decisions of this Court. They view the several cases decided under the Eighth Amendment as assuming the constitutionality of the death penalty without focusing squarely upon the issue. I do not believe that the case law can be so easily cast aside. The Court on numerous occasions has both assumed and asserted the constitutionality of capital punishment. In several cases, that assumption provided a necessary foundation for the decision, as the issue was whether a particular means of carrying out a capital sentence would be allowed to stand. Each of those decisions necessarily was premised on the assumption that some method of exacting the penalty was permissible.

The issue in the first capital case in which the Eighth Amendment was invoked, Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. 130 (1879), was whether carrying out a death sentence by public shooting was cruel and unusual punishment. A unanimous Court upheld that form of execution, noting first that the punishment itself, as distinguished from the mode of its infliction, was "not pretended by the counsel of the prisoner" (id. at 137) to be cruel and unusual. The Court went on to hold that:

Cruel and unusual punishments are forbidden by the Constitution, but the authorities . . . are quite sufficient to show that the punishment of shooting as a mode of executing the death penalty for the crime of murder in the first degree is not included in that category. . . .

Id. at 134-135.

Eleven years later, in In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436 (1890), the Court again faced a question involving the [p422] method of carrying out a capital sentence. On review of a denial of habeas corpus relief by the Supreme Court of New York, this Court was called on to decide whether electrocution, which only very recently had been adopted by the New York Legislature as a means of execution, was impermissibly cruel and unusual in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. [4] Chief Justice Fuller, speaking for the entire Court, ruled in favor of the State. Electrocution had been selected by the legislature, after careful investigation, as "the most humane and practical method known to modern science of carrying into effect the sentence of death." Id. at 444. The Court drew a clear line between the penalty itself and the mode of its execution:

Punishments are cruel when they involve torture or a lingering death; but the punishment of death [p423] is not cruel, within the meaning of that word as used in the Constitution. It implies there something inhuman and barbarous, something more than the mere extinguishment of life.

Id. at 447.

More than 50 years later, in Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459 (1947), the Court considered a case in which, due to a mechanical malfunction, Louisiana's initial attempt to electrocute a convicted murderer had failed. Petitioner sought to block a second attempt to execute the sentence on the ground that to do so would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In the plurality opinion written by Mr. Justice Reed, concurred in by Chief Justice Vinson and Justices Black and Jackson, relief was denied. Again the Court focused on the manner of execution, never questioning the propriety of the death sentence itself.

The case before us does not call for an examination into any punishments except that of death. . . . The traditional humanity of modern Anglo-American law forbids the infliction of unnecessary pain in the execution of the death sentence. . . .
. . . The cruelty against which the Constitution protects a convicted man is cruelty inherent in the method of punishment, not the necessary suffering involved in any method employed to extinguish life humanely.

Id. at 463-464. Mr. Justice Frankfurter, unwilling to dispose of the case under the Eighth Amendment's specific prohibition, approved the second execution attempt under the Due Process Clause. He concluded that

a State may be found to deny a person due process by treating even one guilty of crime in a manner that violates standards of [p424] decency more or less universally accepted, though not when it treats him by a mode about which opinion is fairly divided.

Id. at 469-470.

The four dissenting Justices, although finding a second attempt at execution to be impermissibly cruel, expressly recognized the validity of capital punishment:

In determining whether the proposed procedure is unconstitutional, we must measure it against a lawful electrocution. . . . Electrocution, when instantaneous, can be inflicted by a state in conformity with due process of law. . . .
The all-important consideration is that the execution shall be so instantaneous and substantially painless that the punishment shall be reduced, as nearly as possible, to no more than that of death itself.

Id. at 474 (original emphasis).

Each of these cases involved the affirmance of a death sentence where its validity was attacked as violating the Eighth Amendment. Five opinions were written in these three cases, expressing the views of 23 Justices. While, in the narrowest sense, it is correct to say that in none was there a frontal attack upon the constitutionality of the death penalty, each opinion went well beyond an unarticulated assumption of validity. The power of the States to impose capital punishment was repeatedly and expressly recognized.

In addition to these cases in which the constitutionality of the death penalty was a necessary foundation for the decision, those who today would have this Court undertake the absolute abolition of the death penalty also must reject the opinions of other cases stipulating or assuming the constitutionality of capital punishment. Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 99, 100 (1958); Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 382, 409 (1910) [p425] (White, J., joined by Holmes, J., dissenting). [5] See also McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. at 226 (separate opinion of Black, J.); Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 676 (1962) (DOUGLAS, J., concurring).

The plurality opinion in Trop v. Dulles, supra, is of special interest, since it is this opinion, in large measure, that provides the foundation for the present attack on the death penalty. [6] It is anomalous that the standard urged by petitioners — "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society" (356 U.S. at 101) — should be derived from an opinion that so unqualifiedly rejects their arguments. Chief Justice Warren, joined by Justices Black, DOUGLAS, and Whittaker, stated flatly:

At the outset, let us put to one side the death penalty as an index of the constitutional limit on punishment. Whatever the arguments may be against capital punishment, both on moral grounds and in terms of accomplishing the purposes of punishment — and they are forceful — the death penalty has been employed throughout our history, and, in a day when it is still widely accepted, it cannot be said to violate the constitutional concept of cruelty.

Id. at 99. The issue in Trop was whether forfeiture of citizenship was a cruel and unusual punishment when imposed on [p426] a wartime deserter who had gone "over the hill" for less than a day and had willingly surrendered. In examining the consequences of the relatively novel punishment of denationalization, [7] Chief Justice Warren drew a line between "traditional" and "unusual" penalties:

While the State has the power to punish, the [Eighth] Amendment stands to assure that this power be exercised within the limits of civilized standards. Fines, imprisonment and even execution may be imposed depending upon the enormity of the crime, but any technique outside the bounds of these traditional penalties is constitutionally suspect.

Id. at 100. The plurality's repeated disclaimers of any attack on capital punishment itself must be viewed as more than offhand dicta since, those views were written in direct response to the strong language in Mr. Justice Frankfurter's dissent arguing that denationalization could not be a disproportionate penalty for a concededly capital offense. [8]

The most recent precedents of this Court — Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968), and McGautha v. California, supra — are also premised to a significant degree on the constitutionality of the death penalty. While the scope of review in both cases was limited to questions involving the procedures for selecting juries [p427] and regulating their deliberations in capital cases, [9] those opinions were "singularly academic exercise[s]" [10] if the members of this Court were prepared at those times to find in the Constitution the complete prohibition of the death penalty. This is especially true of Mr. Justice Harlan's opinion for the Court in McGautha, in which, after a full review of the history of capital punishment, he concluded that

we find it quite impossible to say that committing to the untrammeled discretion of the jury the power to pronounce life or death in capital cases is offensive to anything in the Constitution.

Id. at 207. [11] [p428]

Perhaps enough has been said to demonstrate the unswerving position that this Court has taken in opinions spanning the last hundred years. On virtually every occasion that any opinion has touched on the question of the constitutionality of the death penalty, it has been asserted affirmatively, or tacitly assumed, that the Constitution does not prohibit the penalty. No Justice of the Court, until today, has dissented from this consistent reading of the Constitution. The petitioners in these cases now before the Court cannot fairly avoid the weight of this substantial body of precedent merely by asserting that there is no prior decision precisely in point. Stare decisis, if it is a doctrine founded on principle, surely applies where there exists a long line of cases endorsing or necessarily assuming the validity of a particular matter of constitutional interpretation. Green v. United States, 356 U.S. 165, 189-193 (1958) (Frankfurter, J., concurring). While these oft-repeated expressions of unchallenged belief in the constitutionality of capital punishment may not justify a summary disposition of the constitutional question before us, they are views expressed and joined in over the years by no less than 29 Justices of this Court, and therefore merit the greatest respect. [12] Those who now resolve to set those views aside indeed have a heavy burden.


Petitioners seek to avoid the authority of the foregoing cases, and the weight of express recognition in the Constitution itself, by reasoning which will not withstand analysis. The thesis of petitioners' case derives from several opinions in which members of this Court [p429] have recognized the dynamic nature of the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. The final meaning of those words was not set in 1791. Rather, to use the words of Chief Justice Warren speaking for a plurality of the Court in Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. at 100-101:

[T]he words of the Amendment are not precise, and . . . their scope is not static. The Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.

But this was not new doctrine. It was the approach to the Eighth Amendment taken by Mr. Justice McKenna in his opinion for the Court in Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349 (1910). Writing for four Justices sitting as the majority of the six-man Court deciding the case, he concluded that the clause must be "progressive"; it is not "fastened to the obsolete, but may acquire meaning as public opinion becomes enlightened by a humane justice." Id. at 378. The same test was offered by Mr. Justice Frankfurter in his separate concurrence in Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. at 469. While he rejected the notion that the Fourteenth Amendment made the Eighth Amendment fully applicable to the States, he nonetheless found as a matter of due process that the States were prohibited from "treating even one guilty of crime in a manner that violates standards of decency more or less universally accepted."

Whether one views the question as one of due process or of cruel and unusual punishment, as I do for convenience in this case, the issue is essentially the same. [13] The fundamental premise upon which either standard is based is that notions of what constitute cruel and unusual punishment or due process do evolve. [p430] Neither the Congress nor any state legislature would today tolerate pillorying, branding, or cropping or nailing of the ears — punishments that were in existence during our colonial era. [14] Should, however, any such punishment be prescribed, the courts would certainly enjoin its execution. See Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571 (CA8 1968). Likewise, no court would approve any method of implementation of the death sentence found to involve unnecessary cruelty in light of presently available alternatives. Similarly, there may well be a process of evolving attitude with respect to the application of the death sentence for particular crimes. [15] See McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. at 242 (DOUGLAS, J., dissenting). But we are not asked to consider the permissibility of any of the several methods employed in carrying out the death sentence. Nor are we asked, at least as part of the core submission in these cases, to determine whether the penalty might be a grossly excessive punishment for some specific criminal conduct. Either inquiry would call for a discriminating evaluation of particular means, or of the relationship between particular conduct and its punishment. Petitioners' principal argument goes far beyond the traditional process of case-by-case inclusion and exclusion. Instead the argument insists on an unprecedented constitutional rule of absolute prohibition of capital punishment for any crime, regardless of its depravity and impact on society. In calling for a precipitate and final judicial end to this form of penalty as offensive to evolving standards of decency, petitioners would have this Court abandon the traditional and more refined approach consistently followed in its prior Eighth Amendment precedents. What they are saying, in effect, is that the evolutionary [p431] process has come suddenly to an end; that the ultimate wisdom as to the appropriateness of capital punishment under all circumstances, and for all future generations, has somehow been revealed.

The prior opinions of this Court point with great clarity to reasons why those of us who sit on this Court at a particular time should act with restraint before assuming, contrary to a century of precedent, that we now know the answer for all time to come. First, where, as here, the language of the applicable provision provides great leeway, and where the underlying social policies are felt to be of vital importance, the temptation to read personal preference into the Constitution is understandably great. It is too easy to propound our subjective standards of wise policy under the rubric of more or less universally held standards of decency. See Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. at 103 (Warren, C.J.), 119-120 (Frankfurter, J., dissenting); Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. at 470-471 (Frankfurter, J., concurring); Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. at 378-379 (McKenna, J.).

The second consideration dictating judicial self-restraint arises from a proper recognition of the respective roles of the legislative and judicial branches. The designation of punishments for crimes is a matter peculiarly within the sphere of the state and federal legislative bodies. See, e.g., In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. at 447; Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. at 103. When asked to encroach on the legislative prerogative we are well counseled to proceed with the utmost reticence. The review of legislative choices, in the performance of our duty to enforce the Constitution, has been characterized most appropriately by Mr. Justice Holmes as "the gravest and most delicate duty that this Court is called on to perform." Blodgett v. Holden, 275 U.S. 142, 147-148 (1927) (separate opinion). [p432]

How much graver is that duty when we are not asked to pass on the constitutionality of a single penalty under the facts of a single case, but instead are urged to overturn the legislative judgments of 40 state legislatures as well as those of Congress. In so doing, is the majority able to claim, as did the Court in Weems, that it appreciates

to the fullest the wide range of power that the legislature possesses to adapt its penal laws to conditions as they may exist and punish the crimes of men according to their forms and frequency?

217 U.S. at 379. I think not. No more eloquent statement of the essential separation of powers limitation on our prerogative can be found than the admonition of Mr. Justice Frankfurter, dissenting in Trop. His articulation of the traditional view takes on added significance where the Court undertakes to nullify the legislative judgments of the Congress and four-fifths of the States.

What is always basic when the power of Congress to enact legislation is challenged is the appropriate approach to judicial review of congressional legislation. . . . When the power of Congress to pass a statute is challenged, the function of this Court is to determine whether legislative action lies clearly outside the constitutional grant of power to which it has been, or may fairly be, referred. In making this determination, the Court sits in judgment on the action of a coordinate branch of the Government while keeping unto itself — as it must under our constitutional system — the final determination of its own power to act. . . .
Rigorous observance of the difference between limits of power and wise exercise of power — between questions of authority and questions of prudence — requires the most alert appreciation of this decisive but subtle relationship of two concepts that too easily coalesce. No less does it require a [p433] disciplined will to adhere to the difference. It is not easy to stand aloof and allow want of wisdom to prevail, to disregard one's own strongly held view of what is wise in the conduct of affairs. But it is not the business of this Court to pronounce policy. It must observe a fastidious regard for limitations on its own power, and this precludes the Court's giving effect to its own notions of what is wise or politic. That self-restraint is of the essence in the observance of the judicial oath, for the Constitution has not authorized the judges to sit in judgment on the wisdom of what Congress and the Executive Branch do.

356 U.S. at 119-120. See also Mr. Justice White's dissenting opinion in Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. at 382.


Although determining the range of available punishments for a particular crime is a legislative function, the very presence of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause within the Bill of Rights requires, in the context of a specific case, that courts decide whether particular acts of the Congress offend that Amendment. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment imposes on the judiciary a similar obligation to scrutinize state legislation. But the proper exercise of that constitutional obligation in the cases before us today must be founded on a full recognition of the several considerations set forth above — the affirmative references to capital punishment in the Constitution, the prevailing precedents of this Court, the limitations on the exercise of our power imposed by tested principles of judicial self-restraint, and the duty to avoid encroachment on the powers conferred upon state and federal legislatures. In the face of these considerations, only the most conclusive [p434] of objective demonstrations could warrant this Court in holding capital punishment per se unconstitutional. The burden of seeking so sweeping a decision against such formidable obstacles is almost insuperable. Viewed from this perspective, as I believe it must be, the case against the death penalty falls far short.

Petitioners' contentions are premised, as indicated above, on the long-accepted view that concepts embodied in the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments evolve. They present, with skill and persistence, a list of "objective indicators" which are said to demonstrate that prevailing standards of human decency have progressed to the final point of requiring the Court to hold, for all cases and for all time, that capital punishment is unconstitutional.

Briefly summarized, these proffered indicia of contemporary standards of decency include the following: (i) a worldwide trend toward the disuse of the death penalty; [16] (ii) the reflection in the scholarly literature of a progressive rejection of capital punishment founded essentially on moral opposition to such treatment; [17] (iii) the decreasing numbers of executions over the last 40 years, and especially over the last decade; [18] (iv) the [p435] small number of death sentences rendered in relation to the number of cases in which they might have been imposed; [19] and (v) the indication of public abhorrence of [p436] the penalty reflected in the circumstance that executions are no longer public affairs. [20] The foregoing is an incomplete summary, but it touches the major bases of petitioners' presentation. Although they are not appropriate for consideration as objective evidence, petitioners strongly urge two additional propositions. They contend, first, that the penalty survives public condemnation only through the infrequency, arbitrariness, and discriminatory nature of its application, and, second, that there no longer exists any legitimate justification for the utilization of the ultimate penalty. These contentions, which have proved persuasive to several of the Justices constituting the majority, deserve separate consideration, and will be considered in the ensuing sections. Before turning to those arguments, I first address the argument based on "objective" factors.

Any attempt to discern contemporary standards of decency through the review of objective factors must take into account several overriding considerations which petitioners choose to discount or ignore. In a democracy, [p437] the first indicator of the public's attitude must always be found in the legislative judgments of the people's chosen representatives. MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL's opinion today catalogues the salient statistics. Forty States, [21] the District of Columbia, and the Federal Government still authorize the death penalty for a wide variety of crimes. That number has remained relatively static since the end of World War I. Ante at 339-341. That does not mean, however, that capital punishment has become a forgotten issue in the legislative arena. As recently as January, 1971, Congress approved the death penalty for congressional assassination. 18 U.S.C. § 351. In 1965, Congress added the death penalty for presidential and vice presidential assassinations. 18 U.S.C. § 1751. Additionally, the aircraft piracy statute passed in 1961 also carries the death penalty. 49 U.S.C. § 1472(i). MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN's dissenting opinion catalogues the impressive ease with which each of these statutes was approved. Ante at 412-413. On the converse side, a bill proposing the abolition of capital punishment for all federal crimes was introduced in 1967, but failed to reach the Senate floor. [22]

At the state level, New York, among other States, has recently undertaken reconsideration of its capital crimes. A law passed in 1965 restricted the use of capital punishment to the crimes of murder of a police officer and murder by a person serving a sentence of life imprisonment. N.Y.Penal Code § 125.30 (1967).

I pause here to state that I am at a loss to understand [p438] how those urging this Court to pursue a course of absolute abolition as a matter of constitutional judgment can draw any support from the New York experience. As is also the case with respect to recent legislative activity in Canada [23] and Great Britain, [24] New York's decision to restrict the availability of the death penalty is a product of refined and discriminating legislative judgment, reflecting not the total rejection of capital punishment as inherently cruel, but a desire to limit it to those circumstances in which legislative judgment deems retention to be in the public interest. No such legislative flexibility is permitted by the contrary course petitioners urge this Court to follow. [25] In addition to the New York experience, a number of other States have undertaken reconsideration of capital punishment in recent years. In four States, the penalty has been put to a vote of the people through public referenda — a means likely to supply objective evidence of community standards. In Oregon, a referendum seeking abolition of capital punishment failed in 1958, but was subsequently approved in 1964. [26] Two years later, the penalty was approved in Colorado by a wide margin. [27] [p439] In Massachusetts in 1968, in an advisory referendum, the voters there likewise recommended retention of the penalty. In 1970, approximately 64% of the voters in Illinois approved the penalty. [28] In addition, the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws reports that legislative committees in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maryland recommended abolition, while committees in New Jersey and Florida recommended retention. [29] The legislative views of other States have been summarized by Professor Hugo Bedau in his compilation of sources on capital punishment entitled The Death Penalty in America:

What our legislative representatives think in the two score states which still have the death penalty may be inferred from the fate of the bills to repeal or modify the death penalty filed during recent years in the legislatures of more than half of these states. In about a dozen instances, the bills emerged from committee for a vote. But in none except Delaware did they become law. In those states where these bills were brought to the floor of the legislatures, the vote in most instances wasn't even close. [30]

This recent history of activity with respect to legislation concerning the death penalty abundantly refutes the abolitionist position.

The second and even more direct source of information [p440] reflecting the public's attitude toward capital punishment is the jury. In Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968), MR. JUSTICE STEWART, joined by JUSTICES BRENNAN and MARSHALL, characterized the jury's historic function in the sentencing process in the following terms:

[T]he jury is given broad discretion to decide whether or not death is "the proper penalty" in a given case, and a juror's general views about capital punishment play an inevitable role in any such decision.
A man who opposes the death penalty, no less than one who favors it, can make the discretionary judgment entrusted to him by the State, and can thus obey the oath he takes as a juror. . . . Guided by neither rule nor standard, . . . a jury that must choose between life imprisonment and capital punishment can do little more — and must do nothing less — than express the conscience of the community on the ultimate question of life or death.
[O]ne of the most important functions any jury can perform in making such a selection is to maintain a link between contemporary community values and the penal system — a link without which the determination of punishment could hardly reflect "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Trop v. Dulles, . . . [31]

Any attempt to discern, therefore, where the prevailing standards of decency lie must take careful account of [p441] the jury's response to the question of capital punishment. During the 1960's, juries returned in excess of a thousand death sentences, a rate of approximately two per week. Whether it is true that death sentences were returned in less than 10% of the cases, as petitioners estimate, or whether some higher percentage is more accurate, [32] these totals simply do not support petitioners' assertion at oral argument that "the death penalty is virtually unanimously repudiated and condemned by the conscience of contemporary society." [33] It is also worthy of note that the annual rate of death sentences has remained relatively constant over the last 10 years, and that the figure for 1970 —127 sentences — is the highest annual total since 1961. [34] It is true that the sentencing rate might be expected to rise, rather than remain constant, when the number of violent crimes increases as it has in this country. [35] And it may be conceded that the constancy in these statistics indicates the unwillingness of juries to demand the ultimate penalty in many cases where it might be imposed. But these considerations fall short of indicating that juries are imposing the death penalty with such rarity as to justify this Court in reading into this circumstance a public rejection of capital punishment. [36] [p442]

One must conclude, contrary to petitioners' submission, that the indicators most likely to reflect the public's view — legislative bodies, state referenda and the juries which have the actual responsibility — do not support the contention that evolving standards of decency require total abolition of capital punishment. [37] Indeed, [p443] the weight of the evidence indicates that the public generally has not accepted either the morality or the social merit of the views so passionately advocated by the articulate spokesmen for abolition. But however one may assess the amorphous ebb and flow of public opinion generally on this volatile issue, this type of inquiry lies at the periphery — not the core — of the judicial process in constitutional cases. The assessment of popular opinion is essentially a legislative, not a judicial, function.


Petitioners seek to salvage their thesis by arguing that the infrequency and discriminatory nature of the actual resort to the ultimate penalty tend to diffuse public opposition. We are told that the penalty is imposed exclusively on uninfluential minorities — "the poor and powerless, personally ugly and socially unacceptable." [38] It is urged that this pattern of application assures that large segments of the public will be either uninformed or unconcerned, and will have no reason to measure the punishment against prevailing moral standards.

Implicitly, this argument concedes the unsoundness of petitioners' contention, examined above under Part IV, that objective evidence shows a present and widespread community rejection of the death penalty. It is now said, [p444] in effect, not that capital punishment presently offends our citizenry, but that the public would be offended if the penalty were enforced in a nondiscriminatory manner against a significant percentage of those charged with capital crimes, and if the public were thereby made aware of the moral issues surrounding capital punishment. Rather than merely registering the objective indicators on a judicial balance, we are asked ultimately to rest a far-reaching constitutional determination on a prediction regarding the subjective judgments of the mass of our people under hypothetical assumptions that may or may not be realistic.

Apart from the impermissibility of basing a constitutional judgment of this magnitude on such speculative assumptions, the argument suffers from other defects. If, as petitioners urge, we are to engage in speculation, it is not at all certain that the public would experience deep-felt revulsion if the States were to execute as many sentenced capital offenders this year as they executed in the mid-1930's. [39] It seems more likely that public reaction, rather than being characterized by undifferentiated rejection, would depend upon the facts and circumstances surrounding each particular case.

Members of this Court know, from the petitions and appeals that come before us regularly, that brutish and revolting murders continue to occur with disquieting frequency. Indeed, murders are so commonplace [p445] in our society that only the most sensational receive significant and sustained publicity. It could hardly be suggested that in any of these highly publicized murder cases — the several senseless assassinations or the too numerous shocking multiple murders that have stained this country's recent history — the public has exhibited any signs of "revulsion" at the thought of executing the convicted murderers. The public outcry, as we all know, has been quite to the contrary. Furthermore, there is little reason to suspect that the public's reaction would differ significantly in response to other less publicized murder. It is certainly arguable that many such murders, because of their senselessness or barbarousness, would evoke a public demand for the death penalty, rather than a public rejection of that alternative. Nor is there any rational basis for arguing that the public reaction to any of these crimes would be muted if the murderer were "rich and powerful." The demand for the ultimate sanction might well be greater, as a wealthy killer is hardly a sympathetic figure. While there might be specific cases in which capital punishment would be regarded as excessive and shocking to the conscience of the community, it can hardly be argued that the public's dissatisfaction with the penalty in particular cases would translate into a demand for absolute abolition.

In pursuing the foregoing speculation, I do not suggest that it is relevant to the appropriate disposition of these cases. The purpose of the digression is to indicate that judicial decisions cannot be founded on such speculations and assumptions, however appealing they may seem.

But the discrimination argument does not rest alone on a projection of the assumed effect on public opinion of more frequent executions. Much also is made of the undeniable fact that the death penalty has a greater impact on the lower economic strata of society, which [p446] include a relatively higher percentage of persons of minority racial and ethnic group backgrounds. The argument drawn from this fact is two-pronged. In part, it is merely an extension of the speculative approach pursued by petitioners, i.e., that public revulsion is suppressed in callous apathy because the penalty does not affect persons from the white middle class which constitutes the majority in this country. This aspect, however, adds little to the infrequency rationalization for public apathy which I have found unpersuasive.

As MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL's opinion today demonstrates, the argument does have a more troubling aspect. It is his contention that if the average citizen were aware of the disproportionate burden of capital punishment borne by the "poor, the ignorant, and the underprivileged," he would find the penalty "shocking to his conscience and sense of justice," and would not stand for its further use. Ante at 365-366, 369. This argument, like the apathy rationale, calls for further speculation on the part of the Court. It also illuminates the quicksands upon which we are asked to base this decision. Indeed, the two contentions seem to require contradictory assumptions regarding the public's moral attitude toward capital punishment. The apathy argument is predicated on the assumption that the penalty is used against the less influential elements of society, that the public is fully aware of this, and that it tolerates use of capital punishment only because of a callous indifference to the offenders who are sentenced. MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL's argument, on the other hand, rests on the contrary assumption that the public does not know against whom the penalty is enforced, and that, if the public were educated to this fact, it would find the punishment intolerable. Ante at 369. Neither assumption can claim to be an entirely accurate portrayal of public attitude; for some, acceptance of capital punishment might be a consequence [p447] of hardened apathy based on the knowledge of infrequent and uneven application, while for others, acceptance may grow only out of ignorance. More significantly, however, neither supposition acknowledges what, for me, is a more basic flaw.

Certainly the claim is justified that this criminal sanction falls more heavily on the relatively impoverished and underprivileged elements of society. The "have-nots" in every society always have been subject to greater pressure to commit crimes and to fewer constraints than their more affluent fellow citizens. This is, indeed, a tragic byproduct of social and economic deprivation, but it is not an argument of constitutional proportions under the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment. The same discriminatory impact argument could be made with equal force and logic with respect to those sentenced to prison terms. The Due Process Clause admits of no distinction between the deprivation of "life" and the deprivation of "liberty." If discriminatory impact renders capital punishment cruel and unusual, it likewise renders invalid most of the prescribed penalties for crimes of violence. The root causes of the higher incidence of criminal penalties on "minorities and the poor" will not be cured by abolishing the system of penalties. Nor, indeed, could any society have a viable system of criminal justice if sanctions were abolished or ameliorated because most of those who commit crimes happen to be underprivileged. The basic problem results not from the penalties imposed for criminal conduct, but from social and economic factors that have plagued humanity since the beginning of recorded history, frustrating all efforts to create in any country at any time the perfect society in which there are no "poor," no "minorities" and no "underprivileged." [40] [p448] The causes underlying this problem are unrelated to the constitutional issue before the Court.

Finally, yet another theory for abolishing the death penalty — reflected in varying degrees in each of the concurring opinions today — is predicated on the discriminatory impact argument. Quite apart from measuring the public's acceptance or rejection of the death penalty under the "standards of decency" rationale, MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS finds the punishment cruel and unusual because it is "arbitrarily" invoked. He finds that "the basic theme of equal protection is implicit" in the Eighth Amendment, and that the Amendment is violated when jury sentencing may be characterized as arbitrary or discriminatory. Ante at 249. While MR. JUSTICE STEWART does not purport to rely on notions of equal protection, he also rests primarily on what he views to be a history of arbitrariness. Ante at 309-310. [41] Whatever may be the facts with respect to jury sentencing, this argument calls for a reconsideration of the "standards" aspects of the Court's decision in McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183 (1971). Although that is the unmistakable thrust of these opinions today, I see no reason to reassess the standards question considered so carefully in Mr. Justice Harlan's opinion for the Court [p449] last Term. Having so recently reaffirmed our historic dedication to entrusting the sentencing function to the jury's "untrammeled discretion" (id. at 207), it is difficult to see how the Court can now hold the entire process constitutionally defective under the Eighth Amendment. For all of these reasons, I find little merit in the various discrimination arguments, at least in the several lights in which they have been cast in these cases.

Although not presented by any of the petitioners today, a different argument, premised on the Equal Protection Clause, might well be made. If a Negro defendant, for instance, could demonstrate that members of his race were being singled out for more severe punishment than others charged with the same offense, a constitutional violation might be established. This was the contention made in Maxwell v. Bishop, 398 F.2d 138 (CA8 1968), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 398 U.S. 262 (1970), in which the Eighth Circuit was asked to issue a writ of habeas corpus setting aside a death sentence imposed on a Negro defendant convicted of rape. In that case, substantial statistical evidence was introduced tending to show a pronounced disproportion in the number of Negroes receiving death sentences for rape in parts of Arkansas and elsewhere in the South. That evidence was not excluded, but was found to be insufficient to show discrimination in sentencing in Maxwell s trial. MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, then sitting on the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, concluded:

The petitioner's argument is an interesting one, and we are not disposed to say that it could not have some validity and weight in certain situations. Like the trial court, however . . . we feel that the argument does not have validity and pertinent application to Maxwell's case.
  • * * * [p450]
We are not yet ready to condemn and upset the result reached in every case of a Negro rape defendant in the State of Arkansas on the basis of broad theories of social and statistical injustice. . . .
  • * * *
We do not say that there is no ground for suspicion that the death penalty for rape may have been discriminatorily applied over the decades in that large area of states whose statutes provide for it. There are recognizable indicators of this. But . . . improper state practice of the past does not automatically invalidate a procedure of the present. . . .

Id. at 147-148.

I agree that discriminatory application of the death penalty in the past, admittedly indefensible, is no justification for holding today that capital punishment is invalid in all cases in which sentences were handed out to members of the class discriminated against. But Maxwell does point the way to a means of raising the equal protection challenge that is more consonant with precedent and the Constitution's mandates than the several courses pursued by today's concurring opinions.

A final comment on the racial discrimination problem seems appropriate. The possibility of racial bias in the trial and sentencing process has diminished in recent years. The segregation of our society in decades past, which contributed substantially to the severity of punishment for interracial crimes, is now no longer prevalent in this country. Likewise, the day is past when juries do not represent the minority group elements of the community. The assurance of fair trials for all citizens is greater today than at any previous time in our history. Because standards of criminal justice have "evolved" in a manner favorable to the accused, discriminatory imposition of capital punishment is far less likely today than in the past. [p451]


Petitioner in Branch v. Texas, No. 69-5031, and, to a lesser extent, the petitioners in the other cases before us today, urge that capital punishment is cruel and unusual because it no longer serves any rational legislative interests. Before turning to consider whether any of the traditional aims of punishment justify the death penalty, I should make clear the context in which I approach this aspect of the cases.

First, I find no support — in the language of the Constitution, in its history, or in the cases arising under it — for the view that this Court may invalidate a category of penalties because we deem less severe penalties adequate to serve the ends of penology. While the cases affirm our authority to prohibit punishments that are cruelly inhumane (e.g., Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. at 135-136; In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. at 447), and punishments that are cruelly excessive in that they are disproportionate to particular crimes (see Part VII, infra), the precedents of this Court afford no basis for striking down a particular form of punishment because we may be persuaded that means less stringent would be equally efficacious.

Secondly, if we were free to question the justifications for the use of capital punishment, a heavy burden would rest on those who attack the legislatures' judgments to prove the lack of rational justifications. This Court has long held that legislative decisions in this area, which lie within the special competency of that branch, are entitled to a presumption of validity. See, e.g., Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. at 103; Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. at 470 (Frankfurter, J., concurring); Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. at 378-379; In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. at 449. [p452]

I come now to consider, subject to the reservation above expressed, the two justifications most often cited for the retention of capital punishment. The concept of retribution — though popular for centuries — is now criticized as unworthy of a civilized people. Yet this Court has acknowledged the existence of a retributive element in criminal sanctions, and has never heretofore found it impermissible. In Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241 (1949), Mr. Justice Black stated that,

Retribution is no longer the dominant objective of the criminal law. Reformation and rehabilitation of offenders have become important goals of criminal jurisprudence.

Id. at 248. It is clear, however, that the Court did not reject retribution altogether. The record in that case indicated that one of the reasons why the trial judge imposed the death penalty was his sense of revulsion at the "shocking details of the crime." Id. at 244. Although his motivation was clearly retributive, the Court upheld the trial judge's sentence. [42] Similarly, MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL noted in his plurality opinion in Powell v. Texas, 392 U.S. 514, 530 (1968), that this Court

has never held that anything in the Constitution requires that penal sanctions be designed solely to achieve therapeutic or rehabilitative effects. [43] [p453]

While retribution alone may seem an unworthy justification in a moral sense, its utility in a system of criminal justice requiring public support has long been recognized. Lord Justice Denning, now Master of the Rolls of the Court of Appeal in England, testified on this subject before the British Royal Commission on Capital Punishment:

Many are inclined to test the efficacy of punishment solely by its value as a deterrent: but this is too narrow a view. Punishment is the way in which society expresses its denunciation of wrongdoing, and, in order to maintain respect for law, it is essential that the punishment inflicted for grave crimes should adequately reflect the revulsion felt by the great majority of citizens for them. It is a mistake to consider the objects of punishment as being deterrent or reformative or preventive, and nothing else. If this were so, we should not send to prison a man who was guilty of motor manslaughter, but only disqualify him from driving; but would public opinion be content with this? The truth is that some crimes are so outrageous that society insists on adequate punishment, because the wrongdoer deserves it, irrespective of whether it is a deterrent or not. [44]

The view expressed by Lord Denning was cited approvingly in the Royal Commission's Report, recognizing "a [p454] strong and widespread demand for retribution." [45] MR. JUSTICE STEWART makes much the same point in his opinion today when he concludes that expression of man's retributive instincts in the sentencing process "serves an important purpose in promoting the stability of a society governed by law." Ante at 308. The view, moreover, is not without respectable support in the jurisprudential literature in this country, [46] despite a substantial body of opinion to the contrary. [47] And it is conceded on all sides that, not infrequently, cases arise that are so shocking or offensive that the public demands the ultimate penalty for the transgressor.

Deterrence is a more appealing justification, although opinions again differ widely. Indeed, the deterrence issue lies at the heart of much of the debate between the abolitionists and retentionists. [48] Statistical studies, based primarily on trends in States that have abolished the penalty, tend to support the view that the death penalty has not been proved to be a superior deterrent. [49] Some dispute the validity of this conclusion, [50] pointing [p455] out that the studies do not show that the death penalty has no deterrent effect on any categories of crimes. On the basis of the literature and studies currently available, I find myself in agreement with the conclusions drawn by the Royal Commission following its exhaustive study of this issue:

The general conclusion which we reach, after careful review of all the evidence we have been able to obtain as to the deterrent effect of capital punishment, may be stated as follows. Prima facie, the penalty of death is likely to have a stronger effect as a deterrent to normal human beings than any other form of punishment, and there is some evidence (though no convincing statistical evidence) that this is in fact so. But this effect does not operate universally or uniformly, and there are many offenders on whom it is limited and may often be negligible. It is accordingly important to view this question in a just perspective, and not base a penal policy in relation to murder on exaggerated estimates of the uniquely deterrent force of the death penalty. [51]

Only recently, this Court was called on to consider the deterrence argument in relation to punishment by fines for public drunkenness. Powell v. Texas, 392 U.S. 514 (1968). The Court was unwilling to strike down the Texas statute on grounds that it lacked a rational foundation. What MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL said there would seem to have equal applicability in this case:

The long-standing and still raging debate over the validity of the deterrence justification for penal sanctions has not reached any sufficiently clear conclusions to permit it to be said that such sanctions are ineffective in any particular context or for any [p456] particular group of people who are able to appreciate the consequences of their acts. . . .

Id. at 531.

As I noted at the outset of this section, legislative judgments as to the efficacy of particular punishments are presumptively rational, and may not be struck down under the Eighth Amendment because this Court may think that some alternative sanction would be more appropriate. Even if such judgments were within the judicial prerogative, petitioners have failed to show that there exist no justifications for the legislative enactments challenged in these cases. [52] While the evidence and arguments advanced by petitioners might have proved profoundly persuasive if addressed to a legislative body, they do not approach the showing traditionally required before a court declares that the legislature has acted irrationally.


In two of the cases before us today, juries imposed sentences of death after convictions for rape. [53] In these cases, we are urged to hold that, even if capital punishment is permissible for some crimes, it is a cruel and unusual punishment for this crime. Petitioners in these cases rely on the Court's opinions holding that the Eighth Amendment, in addition to prohibiting punishments [p457] deemed barbarous and inhumane, also condemns punishments that are greatly disproportionate to the crime charged. This reading of the Amendment was first expressed by Mr. Justice Field in his dissenting opinion in O'Neil v. Vermont, 144 U.S. 323, 337 (1892), a case in which a defendant charged with a large number of violations of Vermont's liquor laws received a fine in excess of $6,600, or a 54-year jail sentence if the fine was not paid. The majority refused to consider the question on the ground that the Eighth Amendment did not apply to the States. The dissent, after carefully examining the history of that Amendment and the Fourteenth, concluded that its prohibition was binding on Vermont and that it was directed against "all punishments which, by their excessive length or severity, are greatly disproportioned to the offences charged." Id. at 339-340. [54]

The Court, in Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349 (1910), adopted Mr. Justice Field's view. The defendant in Weems, charged with falsifying Government documents, had been sentenced to serve 15 years in cadena temporal, a punishment which included carrying chains at the wrists and ankles and the perpetual loss of the right to vote and hold office. Finding the sentence grossly excessive in length and condition of imprisonment, the Court struck it down. This notion of disproportionality — that particular sentences may be cruelly excessive for particular crimes — has been cited with approval in more recent decisions of this Court. See Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. at 667; Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. at 100; see also Howard v. Fleming, 191 U.S. 126, 135-136 (1903).

These cases, while providing a rationale for gauging the constitutionality of capital sentences imposed for rape, [p458] also indicate the existence of necessary limitations on the judicial function. The use of limiting terms in the various expressions of this test found in the opinions — grossly excessive, greatly disproportionate — emphasizes that the Court's power to strike down punishments as excessive must be exercised with the greatest circumspection. As I have noted earlier, nothing in the history of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause indicates that it may properly be utilized by the judiciary to strike down punishment authorized by legislatures and imposed by juries — in any but the extraordinary case. This Court is not empowered to sit as a court of sentencing review, implementing the personal views of its members on the proper role of penology. To do so is to usurp a function committed to the Legislative Branch and beyond the power and competency of this Court.

Operating within these narrow limits, I find it quite impossible to declare the death sentence grossly excessive for all rapes. Rape is widely recognized as among the most serious of violent crimes, as witnessed by the very fact that it is punishable by death in 16 States and by life imprisonment in most other States. [55] The several reasons why rape stands so high on the list of serious crimes are well known: it is widely viewed as the most atrocious of intrusions upon the privacy and dignity of the victim; never is the crime committed accidentally; rarely can it be said to be unpremeditated; [p459] often the victim suffers serious physical injury; the psychological impact can often be as great as the physical consequences; in a real sense, the threat of both types of injury is always present. [56] For these reasons, and for the reasons arguing against abolition of the death penalty altogether, the excessiveness rationale provides no basis for rejection of the penalty for rape in all cases.

The argument that the death penalty for rape lacks rational justification because less severe punishments might be viewed as accomplishing the proper goals of penology is as inapposite here as it was in considering per se abolition. See Part VI supra. The state of knowledge with respect to the deterrent value of the sentence for this crime is inconclusive. [57] Moreover, what has been said about the concept of retribution applies with equal force where the crime is rape. There are many cases in which the sordid, heinous nature of a particular crime, demeaning. humiliating, and often physically or psychologically traumatic, will call for public condemnation. In a period in our country's history when the frequency of this crime is increasing alarmingly, [58] it is indeed a grave event for the Court to take from the States whatever deterrent and retributive weight the death penalty retains.

Other less sweeping applications of the disproportionality concept have been suggested. Recently the Fourth Circuit struck down a death sentence in Ralph v. Warden, 438 F.2d 786 (1970), holding that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for rape [p460] only where life is "endangered." Chief Judge Haynsworth, who joined in the panel's opinion, wrote separately in denying the State of Maryland's petition for rehearing in order to make clear the basis for his joinder. He stated that, for him, the appropriate test was not whether life was endangered, but whether the victim in fact suffered "grievous physical or psychological harm." Id. at 794. See Rudolph v. Alabama, 375 U.S. 88 (1963) (dissent from the denial of certiorari).

It seems to me that both of these tests depart from established principles and also raise serious practical problems. How are those cases in which the victim's life is endangered to be distinguished from those in which no danger is found? The threat of serious injury is implicit in the definition of rape; the victim is either forced into submission by physical violence or by the threat of violence. Certainly that test would provide little comfort for either of the rape defendants in the cases presently before us. Both criminal acts were accomplished only after a violent struggle. Petitioner Jackson held a scissors blade against his victim's neck. Petitioner Branch had less difficulty subduing his 65-year-old victim. Both assailants threatened to kill their victims. See MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS' opinion, ante at 252-253. The alternate test, limiting the penalty to cases in which the victim suffers physical or emotional harm, might present even greater problems of application. While most physical effects may be seen and objectively measured, the emotional impact may be impossible to gauge at any particular point in time. The extent and duration of psychological trauma may not be known or ascertainable prior to the date of trial.

While I reject each of these attempts to establish specific categories of cases in which the death penalty may be deemed excessive, I view them as groping [p461] toward what is for me the appropriate application of the Eighth Amendment. While, in my view, the disproportionality test may not be used either to strike down the death penalty for rape altogether or to install the Court as a tribunal for sentencing review, that test may find its application in the peculiar circumstances of specific cases. Its utilization should be limited to the rare case in which the death penalty is rendered for a crime technically falling within the legislatively defined class but factually falling outside the likely legislative intent in creating the category. Specific rape cases (and specific homicides as well) can be imagined in which the conduct of the accused would render the ultimate penalty a grossly excessive punishment. Although this case-by-case approach may seem painfully slow and inadequate to those who wish the Court to assume an activist legislative role in reforming criminal punishments, it is the approach dictated both by our prior opinions and by a due recognition of the limitations of judicial power. This approach, rather than the majority's more pervasive and less refined judgment, marks for me the appropriate course under the Eighth Amendment.


I now return to the overriding question in these cases: whether this Court, acting in conformity with the Constitution, can justify its judgment to abolish capital punishment as heretofore known in this country. It is important to keep in focus the enormity of the step undertaken by the Court today. Not only does it invalidate hundreds of state and federal laws, it deprives those jurisdictions of the power to legislate with respect to capital punishment in the future except in a manner consistent with the cloudily outlined views of those Justices who do not purport to undertake total abolition. [p462] Nothing short of an amendment to the United States Constitution can reverse the Court's judgments. Meanwhile, all flexibility is foreclosed. The normal democratic process, as well as the opportunities for the several States to respond to the will of their people expressed through ballot referenda (as in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Colorado), [59] is now shut off.

The sobering disadvantage of constitutional adjudication of this magnitude is the universality and permanence of the judgment. The enduring merit of legislative action is its responsiveness to the democratic process, and to revision and change: mistaken judgments may be corrected and refinements perfected. In England [60] and Canada, [61] critical choices were made after studies canvassing all competing views, and in those countries revisions may be made in light of experience. [62] As recently as 1967, a presidential commission did consider, as part of an overall study of crime in this country, whether the death penalty should be abolished. [p463] The commission's unanimous recommendation was as follows:

The question whether capital punishment is an appropriate sanction is a policy decision to be made by each State. Where it is retained, the types of offenses for which it is available should be strictly limited, and the law should be enforced in an evenhanded and nondiscriminatory manner, with procedures for review of death sentences that are fair and expeditious. When a State finds that it cannot administer the penalty in such a manner, or that the death penalty is being imposed but not carried into effect, the penalty should be abandoned. [63]

The thrust of the Commission's recommendation, as presently relevant, is that this question "is a policy decision to be made by each State." There is no hint that this decision could or should be made by the judicial branch.

The National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws also considered the capital punishment issue. The introductory commentary of its final report states that "a sharp division [existed] within the Commission on the subject of capital punishment," although a [p464] majority favored its abolition. [64] Again, consideration of the question was directed to the propriety of retention or abolition as a legislative matter. There was no suggestion that the difference of opinion existing among commission members, and generally across the country, could or should be resolved in one stroke by a decision of this Court. [65] Similar activity was, before today, evident at the state level with reevaluation having been undertaken by special legislative committees in some States and by public ballot in others. [66]

With deference and respect for the views of the Justices who differ, it seems to me that all these studies — both in this country and elsewhere — suggest that, as a matter of policy and precedent, this is a classic case for the exercise of our oft-announced allegiance to judicial restraint. I know of no case in which greater gravity and delicacy have attached to the duty that this Court is called on to perform whenever legislation — state or federal — is challenged on constitutional grounds. [67] It seems to me that the sweeping judicial action undertaken today reflects a [p465] basic lack of faith and confidence in the democratic process. Many may regret, as I do, the failure of some legislative bodies to address the capital punishment issue with greater frankness or effectiveness. Many might decry their failure either to abolish the penalty entirely or selectively, or to establish standards for its enforcement. But impatience with the slowness, and even the unresponsiveness, of legislatures is no justification for judicial intrusion upon their historic powers. Rarely has there been a more appropriate opportunity for this Court to heed the philosophy of Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. As Mr. Justice Frankfurter reminded the Court in Trop:

[T]he whole of [Mr. Justice Holmes'] work during his thirty years of service on this Court should be a constant reminder that the power to invalidate legislation must not be exercised as if, either in constitutional theory or in the art of government, it stood as the sole bulwark against unwisdom or excesses of the moment.

356 U.S. at 128.


  1. . MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS holds only that
  2. . While statutes in 40 States permit capital punishment for a variety of crimes, the constitutionality of a very few mandatory statutes remains undecided. See concurring opinions by MR. JUSTICE STEWART and MR. JUSTICE WHITE. Since Rhode Island's only capital statute — murder by a life term prisoner — is mandatory, no law in that State is struck down by virtue of the Court's decision today.
  3. . For a thorough presentation of the history of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause see MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL's opinion today, ante at 316-328. See also Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 389-409 (1910) (White, J., dissenting); O'Neil v. Vermont, 144 U.S. 323, 337 (1892) (Field, J., dissenting); Cranucci, "Nor Cruel and Unusual Punishments Inflicted:" The Original Meaning, 57 Calif.L.Rev. 839 (1969).
  4. . The Court pointed out that the Eighth Amendment applied only to the Federal Government, and not to the States. The Court's power in relation to state action was limited to protecting privileges and immunities and to assuring due process of law, both within the Fourteenth Amendment. The standard — for purposes of due process — was held to be whether the State had exerted its authority, "within the limits of those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions." 136 U.S. at 448. The State of Georgia, in No. 69-5003 and No. 69-5030, has placed great emphasis on this discussion in In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436 (1890), and has urged that the instant cases should all be decided under the more expansive tests of due process, rather than under the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause per se. Irrespective whether the decisions of this Court are viewed as "incorporating" the Eighth Amendment (see Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962); Powell v. Texas, 392 U.S. 514 (1968)), it seems clear that the tests for applying these two provisions are fundamentally identical. Compare Mr. Justice Frankfurter's test in Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459, 470 (1947) (concurring opinion), with Mr. Chief Justice Warren's test in Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 100-101 (1958).
  5. . Mr. Justice White stated:
  6. . See Part III, infra.
  7. . In footnote 32, at 100-101, the plurality opinion indicates that denationalization "was never explicitly sanctioned by this Government until 1940, and never tested against the Constitution until this day."
  8. .
  9. . 398 U.S. 936 (1970); 402 U.S. at 306 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). While the constitutionality per se of capital punishment has been assumed almost without question, recently members of this Court have expressed the desire to consider the constitutionality of the death penalty with respect to its imposition for specific crimes. Rudolph v. Alabama, 375 U.S. 889 (1963) (dissent from the denial of certiorari).
  10. . Brief for Respondent in Branch v. Texas, No. 69-5031, p. 6.
  11. . While the implicit assumption in McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183 (1971), of the acceptability of death as a form of punishment must prove troublesome for those who urge total abolition, it presents an even more severe problem of stare decisis for those Justices who treat the Eighth Amendment essentially as a process prohibition. MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, while stating that the Court is "now imprisoned in . . . McGautha" (ante at 248), concludes that capital punishment is unacceptable precisely because the procedure governing its imposition is arbitrary and discriminatory. MR. JUSTICE STEWART, taking a not dissimilar tack on the merits, disposes of McGautha in a footnote reference indicating that it is not applicable because the question there arose under the Due Process Clause. Ante at 310 n. 12. MR. JUSTICE WHITE, who also finds the death penalty intolerable because of the process for its implementation, makes no attempt to distinguish McGautha's clear holding. For the reasons expressed in the CHIEF JUSTICE's opinion, McGautha simply cannot be distinguished. Ante at 399-403. These various opinions would, in fact, overrule that recent precedent.
  12. . This number includes all the Justices who participated in Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. 130 (1879), Kemmler, and Louisiana ex rel. Francis as well as those who joined in the plurality and dissenting opinions in Trop and the dissenting opinion in Weems.
  13. . See n. 4, supra.
  14. . See, e.g., Ex parte Wilson, 114 U.S. 417, 427-428 (1885).
  15. . See Part VII, infra.
  16. . See, e.g., T. Sellin, The Death Penalty, A Report for the Model Penal Code Project of the American Law Institute (1959); United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Capital Punishment (1968); 2 National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws, Working Papers, 1351 n. 13 (1970).
  17. . The literature on the moral question is legion. Representative collections of the strongly held views on both sides may be found in H. Bedau, The Death Penalty in America (1967 rev. ed.), and in Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, Minutes of Evidence (1949-1953).
  18. . Department of Justice, National Prisoner Statistics No. 46, Capital Punishment 1930-1970 (Aug. 1971) (191 executions during the 1960's; no executions since June 2, 1967); President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society 143 (1967) ("[t]he most salient characteristic of capital punishment is that it is infrequently applied").
  19. . An exact figure for the number of death sentences imposed by the sentencing authorities — judge or jury — in the various jurisdictions is difficult to determine. But the National Prisoner Statistics (hereafter NPS) show the numbers of persons received at the state and federal prisons under sentence of death. This number, however, does not account for those who may have been sentenced and retained in local facilities during the pendency of their appeals. Accepting with this reservation the NPS figures as a minimum, the most recent statistics show that at least 1,057 persons were sentenced to death during the decade of the 1960's. NPS, supra, n. 18, at 9.
  20. . See, e.g., People v. Anderson, 6 Cal. 3d 628, 493 P.2d 880, cert. denied, 406 U.S. 958 (1972); Goldberg & Dershowitz, Declaring the Death Penalty Unconstitutional, 83 Harv.L.Rev. 1773, 1783 (1970). But see F. Frankfurter, Of Law and Men 97-98 (1956) (reprint of testimony before the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment).
  21. . Nine States have abolished capital punishment without resort to the courts. See H. Bedau, supra, n. 17, at 39. California has been the only State to abolish capital punishment judicially. People v. Anderson, supra.
  22. . Hearings on S. 1760 before the Subcommittee on Criminal Laws and Procedures of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 90th Cong., 2d Sess. (1968).
  23. . Canada has recently undertaken a five-year experiment — similar to that conducted in England — abolishing the death penalty for most crimes. Stats. of Canada 1967-1968, 16 & 17 Eliz. 2, c. 15, p. 145. However, capital punishment is still prescribed for some crimes, including murder of a police officer or corrections official, treason, and piracy.
  24. . Great Britain, after many years of controversy over the death penalty, undertook a five-year experiment in abolition in 1965. Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, 2 Pub.Gen.Acts, c. 71, p. 1577. Although abolition for murder became final in 1969, the penalty was retained for several crimes, including treason, piracy, and dockyards arson.
  25. . See n. 62, infra.
  26. . See Bedau, supra, n. 17, at 233.
  27. . Ibid. (approximately 65% of the voters approved the death penalty).
  28. . See Bedau, The Death Penalty in America, 35 Fed.Prob., No. 2, pp. 32, 34 (1971).
  29. . National Commission, supra, n. 16, at 1365.
  30. . Bedau, supra, n. 17, at 232. See, e.g., State v. Davis, 158 Conn. 341, 356-359, 260 A.2d 587, 595-596 (1969), in which the Connecticut Supreme Court pointed out that the state legislature had considered the question of abolition during the 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, and 1969 sessions, and had "specifically declined to abolish the death penalty" every time.
  31. . 391 U.S. at 519 and n. 15. See also McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. at 201-202; Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 253 (1949) (Murphy, J., dissenting) ("[i]n our criminal courts, the jury sits as the representative of the community"); W. Douglas, We the Judges 389 (1956); Holmes, Law in Science and Science in Law, 12 Harv.L.Rev. 443, 460 (1899).
  32. . See n. 19, supra.
  33. . Tr. of Oral Arg. in Aikens v. California, No. 68-5027, p. 21. Although the petition for certiorari in this case was dismissed after oral argument, Aikens v. California, 406 U.S. 813 (1972), the same counsel argued both this case and Furman. He stated at the outset that his argument was equally applicable to each ease.
  34. . National Prisoner Statistics, supra, n. 18.
  35. . FBI, Uniform Crime Reports — 1970, pp. 7-14 (1971).
  36. . Public opinion polls, while of little probative relevance, corroborate substantially the conclusion derived from examining legislative activity and jury sentencing — opinion on capital punishment is "fairly divided." Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. at 470 (Frankfurter, J., concurring). See, e.g., Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. at 520 n. 16 (1966 poll finding 42% in favor of the death penalty and 47% opposed); Goldberg & Dershowitz, supra, n. 20, at 1781 n. 39 (1969 poll shows 51% in favor of retention — the same percentage as in 1960); H. Bedau, The Death Penalty in America 231-241 (1967 rev. ed.); Bedau, The Death Penalty in America, 35 Fed. Prob., No. 2, pp. 32, 34-35 (1971).
  37. . If, as petitioners suggest, the judicial branch itself reflects the prevailing standards of human decency in our society, it may be relevant to note the conclusion reached by state courts in recent years on the question of the acceptability of capital punishment. In the last five years alone, since the de facto "moratorium" on executions began (see n. 18, supra), the appellate courts of 26 States have passed on the constitutionality of the death penalty under the Eighth Amendment and under similar provisions of most state constitutions. Every court, except the California Supreme Court, People v. Anderson, 6 Cal. 3d 628, 493 P.2d 880, cert. denied, 406 U.S. 958 (1972), has found the penalty to be constitutional. Those States, and the year of the most recent decision on the issue, are: Alabama (1971); Arizona (1969); Colorado (1967); Connecticut (1969); Delaware (1971); Florida (1969); Georgia (1971); Illinois (1970); Kansas (1968); Kentucky (1971); Louisiana (1971); Maryland (1971); Missouri (1971); Nebraska (1967); Nevada (1970); New Jersey (1971); New Mexico (1969); North Carolina (1972); Ohio (1971); Oklahoma (1971); South Carolina (1970); Texas (1971); Utah (1969); Virginia (1971); Washington (1971). While the majority of these state court opinions do not give the issue more than summary exposition, many have considered the question at some length, and, indeed, some have considered the issue under the "evolving standards" rubric. See, e.g., State v. Davis, 158 Conn. 341, 356-359, 260 A.2d 587, 595-596 (1969); State v. Crook, 253 La. 961, 967-970, 221 So.2d 473, 475-476 (1969); Bartholomey v. State, 260 Md. 504, 273 A.2d 164 (1971); State v. Alvarez, 182 Neb. 358, 366-367, 154 N.W.2d 746, 751752 (1967); State v. Pace, 80 N. M. 364, 371-372, 456 P.2d 197, 204-205 (1969). Every federal court that has passed on the issue has ruled that the death penalty is not per se unconstitutional. See, e.g., Ralph v. Warden, 438 F.2d 786, 793 (CA4 1970); Jackson v. Dickson, 325 F.2d 573, 575 (CA9 1963), cert. denied, 377 U.S. 957 (1964).
  38. . Brief for Petitioner in No. 68-5027, p. 51. Although the Aikens case is no longer before us (see n. 33, supra), the petitioners in Furman and Jackson have incorporated petitioner's brief in Aikens by reference. See Brief for Petitioner in No. 69-5003, pp. 11-12; Brief for Petitioner in No. 69-5030, pp. 11-12.
  39. . In 1935, available statistics indicate that 184 convicted murderers were executed. That is the highest, annual total for any year since statistics have become available. NPS, supra, n. 18. The year 1935 is chosen by petitioners in stating their thesis:
  40. . Not all murders, and certainly not all crimes, are committed by persons classifiable as "underprivileged." Many crimes of violence are committed by professional criminals who willingly choose to prey upon society as an easy and remunerative way of life. Moreover, the terms "underprivileged," the "poor" and the "powerless" are relative and inexact, often conveying subjective connotations which vary widely depending upon the viewpoint and purpose of the user.
  41. . Similarly, MR. JUSTICE WHITE exhibits concern for a lack of any "meaningful basis for distinguishing the few cases in which [the death penalty] is imposed from the many cases in which it is not." Ante at 313. MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL treat the arbitrariness question in the same manner that it is handled by petitioners — as an element of the approach calling for total abolition.
  42. . In Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246 (1952), Mr. Justice Jackson spoke of the "tardy and unfinished substitution of deterrence and reformation in place of retaliation and vengeance as the motivation for public prosecution." Id. at 251. He also noted that the penalties for invasions of the rights of property are high as a consequence of the "public demand for retribution." Id. at 260.
  43. . See also Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201, 207 (1964) (WHITE, J., dissenting) (noting the existence of a "profound dispute about whether we should punish, deter, rehabilitate or cure"); Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. at 674 (DOUGLAS, J., concurring); Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. at 470-471 (Mr. Justice Frankfurter's admonition that the Court is not empowered to act simply because of a "feeling of revulsion against a State's insistence on its pound of flesh"); United States v. Lovett, 328 U.S. 303, 324 (1946) (Frankfurter, J., concurring) ("[p]unishment presupposes an offense, not necessarily an act previously declared criminal, but an act for which retribution is exacted").
  44. . Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, Minutes of Evidence 207 (1949-1953).
  45. . Report of Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, 1949-1953, Cmd. 8932, 53, p. 18.
  46. . M. Cohen, Reason and Law 50 (1950); H. Packer, The Limits of the Criminal Sanction 11-12 (1968); Hart, The Aims of the Criminal Law, 23 Law & Contemp. Prob. 401 (1958).
  47. . The authorities are collected in Comment, The Death Penalty Cases, 56 Calif.L.Rev. 1268, 1297-1301 (1968). The competing contentions are summarized in the Working Papers of the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws, supra, n. 16, at 1358-1359. See also the persuasive treatment of this issue by Dr. Karl Menninger in The Crime of Punishment 190-218 (1966).
  48. . See, e.g., H. Bedau, The Death Penalty in America 260 (1967 rev. ed.); National Commission, supra, n. 16, at 1352.
  49. . See Sellin, supra, n. 16, at 152.
  50. . The countervailing considerations, tending to undercut the force of Professor Sellin's statistical studies, are collected in National Commission, supra, n.16, at 1354; Bedau, supra, n. 48, at 265-266; Hart, Murder and the Principles of Punishment: England and the United States, 52 Nw.U.L.Rev. 433, 455-460 (1957).
  51. . Report of the Royal Commission, supra, n. 45, 68, at 24.
  52. . It is worthy of note that the heart of the argument here — that there are no legitimate justifications — was impliedly repudiated last Term by both the majority and dissenting opinions in McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183 (1971). The argument in that case centered on the proposition that due process requires that the standards governing the jury's exercise of its sentencing function be elucidated. As MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN's dissent made clear, whatever standards might be thought to exist arise out of the list of justifications for the death penalty — retribution, deterrence, etc. Id. at 284. If no such standards exist, the controversy last Term was a hollow one indeed.
  53. . Jackson v. Georgia, No. 69-5030; Branch v. Texas, No. 69-5031.
  54. . Mr. Justice Harlan, joined by Mr. Justice Brewer, dissented separately, but agreed that the State had inflicted a cruel and unusual punishment. Id. at 371.
  55. . In addition to the States in which rape is a capital offense, statutes in 28 States prescribe life imprisonment as a permissible punishment for at least some category of rape. Also indicative of the seriousness with which the crime of rape is viewed, is the fact that, in nine of the 10 States that have abolished death as a punishment for any crime, the maximum term of years for rape is the same as for first-degree murder. Statistical studies have shown that the average prison term served by rapists is longer than for any category of offense other than murder. J. MacDonald, Rape — Offenders and Their Victims 298 (1971).
  56. . Id. at 63-64; Packer, Making the Punishment Fit the Crime, 77 Harv.L.Rev. 1071, 1077 (1964).
  57. . See MacDonald, supra, n. 55, at 314; Chambliss, Types of Deviance and the Effectiveness of Legal Sanctions, 1967 Wis.L.Rev. 703.
  58. . FBI, Uniform Crime Report — 1970, p. 14 (1971) (during the 1960's, the incidence of rape rose 121%).
  59. . See text accompanying nn. 27 & 28, supra.
  60. . See n. 24, supra.
  61. . See n. 23, supra.
  62. . Recent legislative activity in New York State serves to underline the preferability of legislative action over constitutional adjudication. New York abolished the death penalty for murder in 1965, leaving only a few crimes for which the penalty is still available. See text accompanying n. 25, supra. On April 27, 1972, a bill that would have restored the death penalty was considered by the State Assembly. After several hours of heated debate, the bill was narrowly defeated by a vote of 65 to 59. N.Y. Times, Apr. 28, 1972, p. 1, col. 1. After seven years of disuse of the death penalty, the representatives of the people in that State had not come finally to rest on the question of capital punishment. Because the 1965 decision had been the product of the popular will, it could have been undone by an exercise of the same democratic process. No such flexibility is permitted when abolition, even though not absolute, flows from constitutional adjudication.
  63. . President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society 143 (1967) (chaired by Nicholas Katzenbach, then Attorney General of the United States). The text of the Report stated, among other things, that the abolition of the death penalty "is being widely debated in the States"; that it is "impossible to say with certainty whether capital punishment significantly reduces the incidence of heinous crimes"; that "[w]hatever views one may have on the efficacy of the death penalty as a deterrent, it clearly has an undesirable impact on the administration of criminal justice"; and that "[a]ll members of the Commission agree that the present situation in the administration of the death penalty in many States is intolerable." Ibid. As a member of this Presidential Commission I subscribed then, and do now, to the recommendations and views above quoted.
  64. . Final Report of the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws 310 (1971).
  65. . The American Law Institute, after years of study, decided not to take an official position on the question of capital punishment, although the Advisory Committee favored abolition by a vote of 18-2. The Council was more evenly divided, but all were in agreement that many States would undoubtedly retain the punishment and that, therefore, the Institute's efforts should be directed toward providing standards for its implementation. ALI, Model Penal Code 65 (Tent. draft No. 9, 1959).
  66. . See text accompanying nn. 26 through 30, supra.
  67. . Blodgett v. Holden, 275 U.S. 142, 148 (1927) (separate opinion of Holmes, J.). See also Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. at 128 (Frankfurter, J., dissenting):
The awesome power of this Court to invalidate . . . legislation, because in practice it is bounded only by our own prudence in discerning the limits of the Court's constitutional function, must be exercised with the utmost restraint.