Furman v. Georgia

(1972)

One of the most monumental and controversial decisions in history, the three cases that made up the Furman v. Georgia decision declared that capital punishment, as then practiced, amounted to an unconstitutional violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. The decision, which caught the nation by surprise, was so contested within the Supreme Court that nine separate opinions were filed. Five justices—William O. Douglas, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, and Byron White—agreed that the death penalty as administered was unconstitutional, though for different reasons; none of the five signed any other’s concurring opinion. Four justices—Chief Justice Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist—found that the death penalty as administered was compatible with the Eighth Amendment and dissented from the majority’s opinion.

The petitioners were three African American men convicted for murder and...

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William O. Douglas (Library of Congress)

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