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The Death Penalty on the Ballot
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Investigating the attitudes about capital punishment in contemporary America, this book poses the question: can ending the death penalty be done democratically? How is it that a liberal democracy like the United States shares the distinction of being a leading proponent of the death penalty with some of the world's most repressive regimes? Reporting on the first study of initiative and referendum processes used to decide the fate of the death penalty in the United States, this book explains how these processes have played an important, but generally neglected, role in the recent history of America's death penalty. While numerous scholars have argued that the death penalty is incompatible with democracy and that it cannot be reconciled with democracy's underlying commitment to respect the equal dignity of all, Professor Austin Sarat offers the first study of what happens when the public gets to decide on the fate of capital punishment.


'From Arizona in 1918 to California in 2016, death penalty abolitionists have chronically failed to convince American voters to abolish capital punishment. In their groundbreaking study of these losses at the ballot box, Austin Sarat, John Malague, and Sarah Wishloff offer important insights about the place of punishment in American politics and culture. Through a series of fascinating case studies, they argue that abolition of the death penalty won’t occur until human dignity becomes integral to the meaning of American democracy. With lessons for activists and academics alike, The Death Penalty on the Ballot is a provocative and compelling study of the demand for the punishment of death in the only western democracy that still permits it.'

Daniel LaChance - Emory University, Atlanta

'Sarat and his collaborators bring deep expertise on the American death penalty to bear in this fascinating and comprehensive exploration of ballot questions regarding the abolition or retention of capital punishment over the past century. They uncover a treasure trove of materials that span quite different political moments - a rich historical record that sheds light on both the grisly practice of state executions and on the promise and perils of democracy itself.'

Carol S. Steiker - Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law, Harvard University

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