BOOKS: "A Wild Justice" Explores the Cases and Politics That Led to Today's Death Penalty

In his new book, A Wild Justice, Evan J. Mandery (pictured) explores the political complexities and personalities that led to the Supreme Court’s decisions in Furman v. Georgia—striking down the death penalty in 1972—and Gregg v. Georgia—allowing it to resume in 1976. He describes in great detail the work of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the gifted attorneys, such as Anthony Amsterdam, who led the way through this groundbreaking period. Mandery summarizes the struggles this way: “The death penalty war, which continues today, would prove as heartrending and byzantine as any prolonged military campaign. It would be fought in every imaginable forum, from the lowest tribunal in remote Alabama to the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court. It would be fought at the federal level and in almost every state. It would be fought in the streets and in the ivory tower of the academy. These scholarly battles could themselves have consumed several lifetimes, as the abolitionists sought to collect and marshal data to address the various factual issues that would shape public and judicial opinion.”

Jeffrey Toobin, a legal analyst for CNN and the New Yorker, praised the new work: “A Wild Justice is sensational—a revealing and illuminating behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important chapters in the history of the Supreme Court. After reading it, you may never look at the death penalty, or the justices, the same way again.”

Evan Mandery is a former capital defense attorney and an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Read a longer excerpt from “A Wild Justice.”

(See E. Mandery, “Our last legal heroes?: Fighting to kill the death penalty,” Salon, Aug. 11, 2013; E. Mandery, “A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America,” W.W. Norton & Company, August 2013 (press materials). See Books and U.S. Supreme Court.