The Texas Factor


I'd known that in the modern period just five states -- Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida, and Missouri -- were responsible for some huge proportion of total executions (see map) and that, in general, the death penalty is obviously being applied very differently from place to place. But Adam Liptak points out that in 2007, Texas alone accounted for 60 percent of total executions in the United States.

I used to be a death penalty proponent. And I still think, in principle, that it's not always wrong to execute people. But at the systems level, actually existing capital punishment in the United States is clearly a mess. Your odds of dying for your crime have much, much, much more to do with where you committed your crime and your socioeconomic status than anything about the nature of your crime. In theory, I think you could have a fair system that involved some number of executions. In practice, though, it barely seems doable and Harry Blackmun's conclusion that he had to simply refuse to "tinker with the machinery of death" seems more and more sensible to me as time goes on.