Harry Blackmun: Dissent in Callins v. Collins

(1994)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

A few months before his retirement from the Supreme Court, Justice Harry Blackmun used the case of Callins v. Collins to state his intention to never again vote in favor of capital punishment. While sitting on the Eighth Circuit and the Supreme Court he had registered his personal objections to capital punishment but had deferred to the states. However, in 1993 he and his clerks began drafting an opinion renouncing the death penalty as unconstitutional. He used it in Callins v. Collins.

Bruce Callins had killed a person during a robbery of a bar in Texas and had petitioned the Court for review of his death sentence. On February 22, 1994, the Court announced its denial of his petition in the face of his scheduled execution at one o'clock the following morning. Blackmun filed a lone twenty-two-page dissent. The opinion begins with a graphic description of how Callins was scheduled to die by lethal injection the next morning. It then...

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Harry Blackmun (Library of Congress)

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