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Faculty Member Publishes Seminal Book on the Death Penalty

Professor Evan Mandery tells the story of America’s ambivalent relationship with capital punishment in his sixth book, A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America, published by W.W. Norton.

Based on four years of archival research and more than 100 interviews with former Supreme Court law clerks, litigators, and academics, the book tells the behind-the-scenes story of two landmark Supreme Court decisions from the 1970s. In 1972, the Supreme Court struck down Georgia’s death penalty law in Furman v. Georgia—a decision that divided the justices, but nevertheless led nearly everyone to believe capital punishment in the U.S. had ended. However, states responded with a groundswell of support for the death penalty, and in 1976 the Court reauthorized capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia. The U.S. continues to be one of only 57 countries, including Iran and North Korea, that employs the death penalty.

The New York Times Book Review said about A Wild Justice, “Explaining Furman and its implications can be tricky, but Evan Mandery… has done both with remarkable ease. Mandery knows how to tell a story, and he’s done some terrific research.” The book received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly (“It takes a gifted writer to craft a thriller out of the efforts to have capital punishment declared unconstitutional, but Mandery pulls it off in this intellectual page-turner”), Kirkus, which praised the book as “outstanding every respect,” and the Library Journal, which called it a “tour de force.”

This weekend in Slate, Emily Bazelon described the deal between Justices Potter Stewart and Byron White that led the Court to deciding Furman in the manner it did. In the article, Mandery argues that the arrangement between the justices delegitimates the Court’s rulings on capital punishment. “For 40 years the law has been governed by the proposition that a non-arbitrary death penalty law is constitutional,” he said. “I proved to as near a certainty as possible that this proposition was arrived at over the course of weekend by two people, one of whom opposed the death penalty.”

Mandery is the chairperson of the department of criminal justice and an expert on the death penalty. A former capital litigator, he is the author of twenty law review articles on the subject and a textbook currently in its second edition. He has also written three novels. His most recent, Q, was published in 2011 by HarperCollins.