David Baldus, R.I.P.

Iowa Law Professor David Baldus died earlier this week.  His statistitical study of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty was at the center of the Supreme Court’s important 1987 decision in McKleskey v. Kemp.  Despite Baldus’s demonstration that the race of the victim seemed to play a critical role in determining which murderers were sentenced to death, the Court turned aside the defendant’s Equal Protection challenge to his death sentence.  The 5-4 decision was an agonizingly close near-miss for death-penalty opponents.  In fact, the author of the majority opinion, Justice Powell, later called McCleskey the one case in which he would like to change his vote.  If Baldus and his colleagues had been able to get that one extra vote, sentencing law might have developed very differently over the past quarter-century.