Unpremeditated: Capital Punishment and American Law

Legal Studies/Criminal Justice

This book project will explore the United States’ unprecedented experiment with intensive, top-down, constitutional regulation of capital punishment over the past half century. The many unexpected consequences of this regulatory turn—which surprised both proponents and opponents of the death penalty—shed light on both the practice of capital punishment in the United States and on the limits of constitutional regulation as a mode of legal reform.

Students will help research aspects of recent American history (1960s through the present) that bear on capital punishment—issues relating to, for example, racial inequality from the civil rights movement era to the present, changing religious attitudes and practices, crime rates and incarceration practices, and public opinion about crime and punishment. The most helpful skills in a research partner would be research and writing, and the most relevant majors would be social studies, history, government, and sociology. Research partners will work in conjunction with law student research assistants from Harvard Law School, who will be able to conduct the more technical, legal aspects of the research and also help to lead the research partners in their work.

Students will benefit, not only from the research project itself, but also from their relationships with the law student research assistants. The project will benefit from the enthusiasm, wide methodological range, and educated lay reader’s perspective that the research partners will bring to the table.