Image Crafting: The US Supreme Court and Death Penalty Decision-Making 1972-2019

Bide, Catriona (2023) Image Crafting: The US Supreme Court and Death Penalty Decision-Making 1972-2019. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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The category of US Supreme Court ‘death penalty cases’ covers a multitude of issues. After Furman v. Georgia (1972) established the modern death penalty debate and Gregg v. Georgia (1976) reaffirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty, closer analysis of subsequent cases in this broad category dispels the notion of the general ‘death penalty case.’ Instead, this is best viewed as three sub-categories; eligibility, methods, and procedural. This thesis focuses on the first two; death penalty eligibility, and methods of execution.

This allows a clearer insight into what the Court did in its decisions: image crafting. The Court attempted to present an image of legitimacy to the public to mitigate accusations that its decisions here stemmed from the Justices’ subjective personal views. However, in reality these decisions were steered by the Justices’ personal predilections and analysis of these cases contradicts claims from the Justices that their views and interpretations did not influence decision-making.

In eligibility cases the Court’s fervent focus on evolving standards of decency was intended to present the image of decisions premised on societal standards and removed from the Justices' personal predilections. Instead, these predilections came through in how the Justices interpreted evolving standards data, which provided the means to their desired end. In this context the swing Justices were most influential.

In methods cases the Court’s conservatives changed approach, as looking to evolving standards would not have met their desired end of upholding the death penalty and bolstering it against future constitutional attacks. Instead, they based their rulings on precedent and used this to present an image of legitimacy where underneath the Court once again acted on the views of the Justices.

Throughout its eligibility and methods decisions, the Court worked carefully to craft a favourable public image whilst still pursuing the preferences of the Justices.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 03 Jul 2024 08:36
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2024 06:06


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