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    04.28.11 ACLU and the Federalist Society Debate the Constitutionality of the Death Penalty

    On April 13, approximately 50 students and professors gathered to hear arguments from representatives of the BLS-ACLU and BLS Federalist Society student groups debate whether the death penalty violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

    Michael Peters ‘12, Federalist Society President, asserted that the death penalty does not violate the 8th Amendment. Peters argued that the Supreme Court’s long tradition of upholding the death penalty reflects its enduring constitutionality. Peter said, “The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia. Since Gregg, very little has changed in terms of whether we consider capital punishment cruel or unusual.” He cited the 35 states that currently employ the death penalty as evidence of widespread public support. He concluded, “The death penalty doesn’t violate the evolving standards of decency in our society.”

    Liz Komar ‘13, ACLU Debate Co-Chair, took the opposite stance, arguing that it did violate the 8th Amendment. “The Court held in Furman v. Georgia and subsequent cases, that the constitutionality of the death penalty depends on our ability to prevent jurors from making decisions based on prejudice and ensuring jurors weigh several constitutionally-required factors,” Komar said. She offered evidence from the Capital Jury Project showing that the majority of capital jurors fail to meet those requirements. She concluded, “Our continued failure to fulfill the promise of Furman means that not only is the death penalty unconstitutional as applied today, but that constructing a constitutional death penalty is likely impossible.”

    In the fall semester, the BLS-ACLU and the BLS Federalist Society also debated the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration statutes. ACLU Debate Co-Chair Raphael Ruttenberg ‘11 explained, “These debates are an important opportunity for students to hear different perspectives on contemporary legal issues.”

    The ACLU is a national organization dedicated to defending and preserving the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. The Federalist Society is a conservative and libertarian organization of law students, attorneys, and members of the judiciary that promotes an originalist view of the Constitution, particularly with regard to the separation of powers, federalism, limited, constitutional government, and the rule of law in protecting individual freedom and traditional values.

    Learn more about the Law School’s student organizations.