By the late 1960s, use of the death penalty was on the decline in the United States. But after the U.S. Supreme Court declared in the 1972 case Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty as practiced violated the Eighth and 14th Amendments, there was a political backlash. By 1976, Georgia had a new capital punishment system that did pass Supreme Court muster, and other states followed suit–including Texas.
In Let The Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty, Maurice Chammah examines how Texas reinstated its death penalty and quickly became the leader in the nation in number of executions. Texas has carried out 570 executions since 1976, more than quintuple the total of the next ranked state, Virginia, which has executed 113. Why does Texas stand out this way?
In this episode of the Modern Law Library, Chammah shares what he learned; how he researched this book; and how and why the surge of death penalty cases in the 1980s and 1990s dropped after the peak in 2000. He discusses elements of Texas history–including the use of lynching–that contributed to the use of the death penalty. He also shares with the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles some speculation about what the publicity surrounding the resumption of federal executions after a 17-year hiatus at the end of the Trump administration might mean for death penalty abolition efforts.