In this compelling and timely work, Austin Sarat provides the first book-length work on executive clemency. He turns our focus from questions of guilt and innocence to the very meaning of mercy. Starting from Ryan's controversial decision, Mercy on Trial uses the lens of executive clemency in capital cases to discuss the fraught condition of mercy in American political life. Most pointedly, Sarat argues that mercy itself is on trial. Although it has always had a problematic position as a form of "lawful lawlessness," it has come under much more intense popular pressure and criticism in recent decades. This has yielded a radical decline in the use of the power of chief executives to stop executions.
From the history of capital clemency in the twentieth century to surrounding legal controversies and philosophical debates about when (if ever) mercy should be extended, Sarat examines the issue comprehensively. In the end, he acknowledges the risks associated with mercy--but, he argues, those risks are worth taking.
Now in paperback, the book includes a new preface outlining the latest twists and turns in the death penalty debate, including the recent galvanization of citizens and leaders alike as recent botched executions have unfolded in the press. Sarat argues that unlike in the past, today's botched executions seem less like inexplicable mishaps and more like the latest symptoms of a death penalty machinery in disarray. Gruesome Spectacles traces the historical evolution of methods of execution, from hanging or firing squad to electrocution to gas and lethal injection. Even though each of these technologies was developed to "perfect" state killing by decreasing the chance of a cruel death, an estimated three percent of all American executions went awry in one way or another. Sarat recounts the gripping and truly gruesome stories of some of these deaths—stories obscured by history and to some extent, the popular press.
At a time when societies are directing an unprecedented level of resources and ingenuity to anticipating and mitigating catastrophic events, Catastrophe: Law, Politics, and the Humanitarian Impulse examines the tests that catastrophe poses to politics and humanitarianism as well as to the law. It explores legal, political, and humanitarian responses during times when the sudden, discontinuous, and disastrous event has become, perhaps paradoxically, a structural component of our political imagination. It asks whether law, politics, and humanitarianism live up to the tests posed by disaster, and the role all of them play in creating a more resilient world.
Taken together the essays in this book ask us to see through and beyond the myths that surround catastrophe and our responses to it. They ask us to rethink our understanding of catastrophe and to imagine new legal, political, and humanitarian responses.
In addition to the editors, contributors include Thomas Birkland, Michele Landis Dauber, Kim Fortun, Edward Rackley, Peter Redfield, Peter H. Schuck, and Susan Sterett.