How Statistics Doomed Washington State’s Death Penalty

«The logic Powell applied to the death penalty is the same logic Philip Morris employed while he served on its board. Numbers on paper don’t prove a thing.

The death-penalty lawyer Anthony Amsterdam has called McCleskey “the Dred Scott decision of our time”—the moral equivalent of the 1857 opinion denying black Americans any chance of citizenship. After his retirement, Powell told his biographer that he would change his vote in McCleskey if he could.

But it was too late. The Supreme Court was committed to cigarette-maker logic.

Last week, the Washington Supreme Court, in a fairly pointed opinion, declared that, at least in its jurisdiction, numbers have real meaning. And to those who have eyes to see, numbers make clear the truth about death-sentencing: It is arbitrary and racist in its application.»

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