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I am grateful to have the opportunity to be here, to meet with distinguished members of the legal profession and law students and to talk with you about how well the legal system and our profession are responding to the challenge of deciding who dies.
This year is the twentieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Furman v. Georgia, in which the death penalty as it had existed for 200 years in our country's history was found to be unconstitutionally applied. We have now had about nineteen years of experience with the new death penalty statutes passed after Furman. We are in a position to examine whether the constitutional deficiencies identified in Furman-discrimination against minorities and the poor and arbitrariness and capriciousness have been eliminated from the process of imposing death.
We have also just completed the year in which we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. I know that those of you here today recognize that the Bill of Rights is not a collection of technicalities. The Bill of Rights is one of the most fundamental and important documents of our national existence. It is one of our nation's great exports. It is something that people around the world admire about our country.
It is thus appropriate for us to examine here today how well the Bill of Rights is being enforced in these cases, cases involving human life; how well our profession, the legal profession, has fulfilled its responsibility to make the protections of the Bill of Rights available to those facing the death penalty; and, finally, whether the Bill of Rights is serving its purpose of protecting the poorest and most powerless people of our society.
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