Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Just Die Already: Samuel A. Alito on Cases Involving the Death Penalty

By Jay Kindlon
Jay Kindlon
, a 2020 graduate of Albany Law School, was an associate editor of the Albany Law Review, a teaching assistant, and a research assistant. Prior to attending law school, Jay earned a Bachelor’s Degree with majors in History and Africana Studies from Binghamton University.
While in law school, Jay served as a judicial extern to the Hon. Lawrence E. Kahn of the Northern District of New York, and as an intern with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of New York. He also participated in a number of Moot Court competitions where he won the Domenic L. Gabrielli Appellate Advocacy Competition and was a finalist in the American Arbitration Association’s Judith S. Kaye Arbitration Competition. He interned in the summer following his 2nd year with Schulte Roth & Zabel, where he will begin work as a junior associate.

“Yet it is precisely in the most contentious cases that Alito has shown an unbroken pattern of excusing errors in capital proceedings and eroding norms of basic fairness.” During Justice Samuel A. Alito’s confirmation process, much attention was paid to his decision making on abortion cases; however, Professor Goodwin Liu, in an LA Times article, focused on his death penalty decisions. In his time on the Third Circuit, Alito voted against, and often wrote separate opinions attacking, those sentenced to death. Liu emphasized that Alito’s capital punishment jurisprudence, which makes up a substantial part of the Supreme Court docket, deserved closer attention and scrutiny as he went through the confirmation process. Now that Alito has been on the Court for well over a decade, his death penalty jurisprudence deserves a more comprehensive analysis. 

Up to this point, analyses of Alito’s death penalty jurisprudence have been fractured. Alito has been described as markedly harsh towards criminals, deferential to state legislatures, and, by one commentator, the most consistent conservative on the Court. Most commentators have only considered Alito’s death penalty jurisprudence on the Third Circuit, or in a few specific cases, but rarely on its own. These articles fall short in accounting for the full picture of Alito’s death penalty jurisprudence. By taking a more holistic view of Alito’s death penalty opinions, his individual arguments become less important and a clearer image emerges. 

This paper will examine Alito’s death penalty jurisprudence and the true motivations behind his decisions. In three phases, this paper will begin by exploring Alito’s voting pattern and effect on the court, then observe four notable opinions to analyze his reasoning, and finally, try to account for Alito’s voting and rhetoric. More specifically, in the first phase, this paper will consider Alito’s voting pattern in twenty high profile death penalty cases. After evaluating his voting and the dynamics of his opinion writing, this paper will analyze four of Alito’s opinions by first discussing how he argued in each of these cases before analyzing his specific reasoning. These opinions will cover Alito writing for the majority and three dissenting opinions. Finally, the paper will use the twenty cases and the lessons gleaned from them to explain Alito’s death penalty jurisprudence. _________________________________
To read the paper, open HERE.