Professors Robert Blecker, Kevin Doyle
For fifty years, the Supreme Court has been in the thick of the passionate debate over capital punishment through a series of hotly contested and closely divided opinions, drawing on history, philosophy, psychology, and essential pillars of Constitutionalism. This course explores the problem of the death penalty, legally and philosophically. Topics include philosophies of punishment, from Plato to the present; methods of execution, with close attention to the history and controversy surrounding the electric chair; the relationship of punishment and pain; aggravating circumstances (felony murder, multiple victims, torture, cop killers, witnesses, lifers contract killers); mitigating circumstances (youth, passion, drugs, diminished capacity, rotten background); proportionality (should the death penalty be available for crimes other than murder?); alternatives (life without parole); and race and racism. Although this course is agnostic, drawing upon a variety of sources, it actively develops clashing perspectives not only to help students better appreciate the dimensions of the problem but also the better to formulate their own opinions.