Protesters show their support for death row inmate Troy Davis during a rally at the capitol in Atlanta September 20, 2011 / Reuters
I expect no significant erosion of institutionalized barriers to justice -- the grievous limitations on death penalty appeals enacted during the Clinton years with bipartisan support, the Supreme Court precedents that dispense with constitutional restraints on executions (including concerns about actual innocence), the high tolerance by appellate courts for acknowledged prosecutorial errors, or the grossly inadequate, under-funded indigent defense system in capital cases. Nor do I expect any diminution in the righteousness partly underlying public support for the death penalty and the belief that justice means inflicting on convicted predators the same punishments they inflicted on their prey. "Nothing is more cruel than righteous indignation," Clarence Darrow said, pleading for the lives of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. He meant, I think, that moral certainty is crueler than moral ambiguity, because it is so utterly immodest.
Nothing is more reliable than the persistence of moral immodesty, Darrow might have added. Today, it seems especially plentiful in efforts, right and left, to police our private lives. The right wants to prohibit abortion and homosexuality among other presumed sins and subject us to a theologically correct Christian government; the left want to expand the reach of civil rights laws, applying them to speech as well as behavior and extending them to private associations. Liberty is eroding, partly (and only partly) because it requires a willingness to tolerate doubt about the rightness of our ideals and predilections and the fairness of the justice system.