In February 2016, the Houston Institute filed an amicus brief in the case of Tucker v. Louisiana, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to grant certiorari in a death penalty case. Our brief explained the profound historical and contemporary connections between race and the death penalty in the United States, both in Caddo Parish, Louisiana (the jurisdiction in which this case originated), and nationwide.
We argue that racial disparities are evident in the administration of capital sentencing in Caddo Parish and Louisiana, but are not unique to either. Those who decide whether to seek and impose the death penalty harbor implicit and explicit racial biases that cause the death penalty to be administered arbitrarily. Research shows that the racial makeup of a capital jury has a direct effect on its ability to deliver an impartial verdict. Yet Black citizens are systematically excluded from jury service in capital cases due to the practice of “death qualification” and use of peremptory strikes, which also serve to exclude Black persons from serving on capital juries. Further, capital punishment has a deep and inextricable historical connection with racially motivated violence. There is a longstanding and mutually reinforcing relationship between racial discrimination, retribution, and the death penalty. The legacy of retributive racial violence continues to cast a shadow over the administration of capital punishment today. Accordingly, in light of both past and present connections to racial discrimination, capital punishment cannot be said to serve a legitimate penological purpose.
The petition for certiorari was denied in May 2016, but the dissent by Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Ginsburg, cited research presented in the Houston Institute amicus in arguing that the Court should have instead granted certiorari to reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty. Justices Breyer and Ginsburg would have granted certiorari in this case to confront the first question presented, i.e., whether imposition of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Read our brief: