That is, they authorize their agents and representatives to kill, sometimes judicially and sometimes by extralegal command, sometimes at home and sometimes abroad.
Abroad, they do it most often and with the highest body count in war or warlike conditions, where soldiers are the principal agents.
The real number is much higher because that number doesn’t include executions performed by China, which refuses to provide figures.
But still, the number is unlikely to exceed three or four thousand for the year.
In 2016, among the (roughly) two hundred countries in the world, 104 were de jure abolitionist (no capital crimes on the books, no one on death row) and thirty-seven more de facto abolitionist (capital crimes on the books, and sometimes people on death row, but no executions performed for a good while).
Twenty years earlier, only sixty countries were de jure abolitionist. Since the reconfiguration of law and practice surrounding judicial execution at the state level forced by the Supreme Court’s 1972 ruling in , the trajectory has been broadly toward abolition: Eighteen states are now strictly abolitionist, and around another eleven (there are some definitional difficulties) are de facto so.I very much hope that we do not learn to live with these solutions, in either case.Compromise is, without doubt, a political good, but to learn to live with compromises such as these would be to accept a bleeding wound in the body politic, one that might eventually be fatal.Every year, at every level of culture, there’s a flood of words about it, from abstruse, high-theoretical juridical and philosophical arguments to close-to-the-ground rants and breast-beatings.There are protests and vigils and marches on every side. The fundamental reason is that judicial execution, unlike any other state action, unlike even other kinds of state killing, dramatizes, always with theatricality, the question of sovereignty.Fewer judicial executions are happening, and fewer people think them a good idea.Retentionists—defenders of judicial execution—feel themselves under threat; abolitionists—those who’d like it gone—feel themselves on the brink of victory. Evidence of change in frequency and opinion is easy to come by.That, too, would move our death rows toward empty, even though new inhabitants would enter.It would, in a different way, also do the trick, though the body count would be high. A characteristically American solution in matters of judicial and legislative difficulty, especially those that involve killing people, is to allow, and in some perverse way to delight in, a tension approaching incoherence between what the law allows and what it’s possible to do.Judicial executions are constitutionally permissible but almost impossible to do.Perhaps that’s what we must learn to live with in these difficult cases: constitutional interpretation that permits or requires some action, and the removal of that action from possibility by a thousand regulative cuts.