The Price of Justice: Interest-Convergence, Cost, and the Anti-Death Penalty Movement

McLaughlin, Jolie | January 1, 2014

While thirty-two states in the United States still authorize capital punishment, this country finds itself in the midst of an undisputed trend towards states outlawing the death penalty. Over the past six years, legislatures in six states have abolished capital punishment—breaking a three-decade-long death penalty reform stalemate. Although anti-death penalty advocates have fought to abolish capital punishment in the United States for over two centuries, their successes were fairly minimal until recently. What accounts for the anti-death penalty movement’s recent success? This Note argues that “interest-convergence,” a theory developed by Professor Derrick Bell, provides one important explanation. Within the past decade, anti-death penalty advocates have placed less emphasis on the moral arguments against capital punishment, focusing more on the costs and inefficiencies of the practice. In turn, state legislatures have been receptive to the anti-death penalty movement’s cost arguments, especially in light of the recent economic crisis. In other words, by giving state legislatures a self-interested reason to abolish capital punishment—saving their constituents millions of dollars (and increasing their chances of reelection)—anti-death penalty advocates have aligned state lawmakers’ interests with their own. The result has been an apparent turning point for death penalty reform in America.