The Bitter Fruit of American Justice:
International and Domestic Resistance to the Death Penalty

Alan W. Clarke and Laurelyn Whitt
Northeastern University Press, 2007
242 p.


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Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: Introduction

Part One: International Pressure to Relinquish State Execution
Chapter 2: Human Rights and the Erosion of Absolute Sovereignty
Chapter 3: Extradition: Holding the United States to a Higher Human Rights Standard
Chapter 4: Honoring Treaty Commitments: The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations

Part Two: Domestic Resistance to the Death Penalty
Chapter 5: Death Penalty Myths: Science Confronts Conventional Wisdom
Chapter 6: Attitudes Toward Capital Punishment: Do Facts Matter?
Chapter 7: Executing the Innocent
Chapter 8: The Moral Potency of the Innocence Argument
Chapter 9: The Imperfectability of the System
Chapter 10: Conclusion

Notes / Index

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The Bitter Fruit of American Justice examines two increasingly important factors in the debate over state execution, the conjunction of which may well signal an end to the death penalty in the United States. The first is external to the country: mounting international resistance to state execution is raising the political stakes for the United States. Much of the democratic world has abolished state execution, regarding it as a grave human rights violation. Drawing on new understandings of state sovereignty, these nations are using extradition policies and existing treaty obligations to pressure the United States to end capital punishment. The second is internal to the country: the discovery of large numbers of innocent people on America’s death rows has shaken public opinion and political resolve on this issue. The moral potency and rhetorical effectiveness of the innocence argument is radically altering the terms of the debate, undermining traditional justifications for capital punishment and weakening the attitudes of even the most adamant retentionists. Alan W. Clarke and Laurelyn Whitt contend that while there have long been compelling reasons to oppose the death penalty (the persistence of race, class, and ethnic bias, its profound arbitrariness, its failure to deter more effectively than its alternatives, its exceptional costs), the power of such critiques is itself significantly enhanced by the convergence of international pressure and the innocence argument. The fact that a significant number of those whose lives the state ends are not only selected on arbitrary and discriminatory grounds, but are also innocent of the crime for which they are being punished only intensifies the gravity of the abuse of state power that the American death penalty represents. The authors argue that domestic disquiet over a system that gets it wrong all too frequently is combining with the international critique of the death penalty as a human rights violation to bring an end to America’s death penalty.


>> Choice: Listed as a Significant University Press Title for Undergraduates, 2007-2008

>> International Review of Modern Sociology: “Clarke and Whitt’s approach is fresh, their logic impeccable, and their conclusions so persuasive that even the staunchest defenders of capital punishment might take notice. In fact, one of their aims is precisely to demonstrate how the very logic used by death penalty supporters collapses on its own weight when confronted with increasingly persuasive evidence that some of the most fundamental problems with capital punishment, especially the risk of executing the innocent, are generated and reproduced by the system itself and hence not amenable to fixing.”

>> International Studies Review: “This book is clearly written, well organized, and thoroughly documented. The authors refer to a variety of court opinions, legal journals, and reports from human rights NGOs that support their claims regarding the growing domestic and transnational pressure against the death penalty in the United States. Their argument, therefore, should be of interest to scholars of American politics and international relations…this study enhances our understanding of the diminished stature of the United States, and how long the odds are that this stature can recover anytime soon.”