The Death Penalty and Powell’s First Term

‘On Powell’s first day at the Court, Marshall joked, “Do you have your capital punishment opinion written yet?”‘ So wrote Powell biographer John Jeffries, and the quote had little hyperbole. Ten days after Powell was sworn in, Aikens v. California, the case that sought to have the death penalty declared “cruel and unusual,” was argued before the court.

But it was the case of Furman v. Georgia, the Court’s attempt to end capital punishment without declaring it unconstituional, that would ironically bring executions back as a regular part of criminal justice in the United States.  You may now see Justice Powell’s files for FurmanAikens, and a number of other death penalty cases from October term 1971.