Dear Mr. President,
Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has changed his views on the constitutionality of the death penalty. Thirty-four years after deciding with the majority to reinstate capital punishment, Stevens has cited judicial activism, rampant systematic racism and the hysteria of those making life or death decisions as evidence that the death penalty, at least in its current form, is not consistent with the constitution. While this change of heart does nothing for the 1,100-some hearts stopped in the interim years, it does demonstrate an admirable commitment to the higher purpose of the law; a commitment unshaken even by the fear of backing down from such a public position on such a difficult issue.
To see a change like this in such a high-profile individual is astounding. How often do we hear politicians or judges admit they were wrong? How often does the synthesis of new information or insight (rather than the cynical hope of political gain) actually change the entrenched views of our leaders? While, as a result of my own ideology, I am certainly more impressed than I would be if Justice Stevens' opinion had changed the other way, I think that the power of this announcement is not in the moral soundness of his judgement but in his willingness to admit that his previous position was wrong.
I hope that you carefully consider the Justice's words on the subject. I, like Justice Stevens, do not believe that capital punishment has a place in our legal system, and I hope that you take this opportunity to question your own position on the issue. Unlike Justice Stevens, whose changing heart cannot hope to change many lives, you are in a position to help those unjustly affected by this policy. Read the Justice's essay, Mr. President, and see if your own heart is not moved to make the same change.