Justice Calls Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Punishment 'pointless,' Stevens says, though he'll keep to precedent
By Sam Gale Rosen,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2008 5:39 PM CDT
U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens comments on the court at the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference in Honolulu, Thursday, July 19, 2007.    (AP Photo/Lucy Pemoni)
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(Newser) – Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens says he now believes the death penalty is unconstitutional, as it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Stevens was a key vote in upholding the legality of the death penalty 30 years ago, and says he will continue to respect the precedent of the court in dealing with capital punishment, the AP reports.

Stevens says such precedent explains why he voted against the Kentucky death row inmates in the case decided today. Stevens' switch resembles that of Justice Harry Blackmun, the AP notes, who famously declared opposition to capital punishment before his retirement in 1994. Stevens, who turns 88 on Sunday, says he has no plans to retire.