A dialogue on death penalty dignity
AbstractThe concept of ‘dignity’ has always played an important role in the opinions written by members of the US Supreme Court in capital punishment cases. However, the justices have failed to agree about either the type or nature of dignity involved. This article identifies and analyzes the three main categories of dignity that have appeared in the justices’ death penalty opinions. Justice Brennan’s concurrence in Furman v. Georgia (1972) is used to explore the abolitionist argument that capital punishment cannot constitutionally coexist with respect for innate human dignity. By contrast, Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Roper v. Simmons (2005) argues that human dignity is not threatened by a heavily regulated death penalty. Finally, Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion in Baze v. Rees (2008) focuses our attention on an institutionalized formulation of dignity that emphasizes respect for the dignity of the State that employs the death penalty. The Supreme Court’s dialogue on death penalty dignity is ongoing. Consequently, this article’s analysis will aid us when we seek to understand future opinions in which the justices debate the role that the concept of ‘dignity’ can and should play ‘when the State kills’.