Last updated on: 11/10/2008 | Author:

Stuart Taylor, Jr., JD Biography

Former Nonresident Senior Fellow of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution
Pro to the question "Should the Death Penalty Be Legal?"

“I suspect that the abolitionist justices may have been right in their perception that the death penalty is in tension with the ‘evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.’ (Chief Justice Earl Warren originated the line in 1958, in Trop v. Dulles.)

They were wrong, however, to take this perception as a mandate to abolish the death penalty, for at least three reasons.

First, the recent history sketched previously shows that the trend toward less enthusiasm for executions is not linear, and that well-intentioned judicial efforts to speed up the evolution process can backfire.

Second, judicial abolition of the death penalty would usurp powers assigned by the Constitution to the legislative and executive branches…

Third, while the justices know a lot about the social costs of the death penalty, they know very little about whether and to what extent these costs may be offset by the very considerable benefit of saving innocent lives…

Many more experts argue that the death penalty does not deter crime. And it seems likely that in some contexts – jihadist terrorists who crave martyrdom, for example – more executions might actually bring more murders.

Putting aside such special cases, at this point most of us can only speculate about which side has the better of the inherently conjectural arguments about deterrence. The same is true of the justices. And speculation is not a firm foundation on which to build constitutional law.”

Stuart Taylor Jr., “The Death Penalty: Slowly Fading?,” National Journal, Nov. 17, 2007

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Former Nonresident Senior Fellow of Governance Studies, Brookings Institution
  • Columnist, National Journal
  • Contributing Editor, Newsweek
  • Senior Writer, American Lawyer Media, 1989-1997
  • McGraw Distinguished Lecturer in Writing, Princeton University, 1988-1989
  • Reporter and Supreme Court correspondent, New York Times, 1980-1988
  • Attorney, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, 1978-1980
  • Reporter, Baltimore Sun and Evening Sun, 1971-1974
  • JD, Harvard Law School, 1977
  • AB, Princeton University, 1970
  • None found