America is a country plagued by racism. Culturally, politically, economically. But what about in the courts? 30 years ago, Warren McCleskey, a black man on Georgia’s death row, took proof to the US Supreme Court that his trial and sentence had been affected by racial prejudice. It’s a landmark case that nearly every law student in American is familiar with — but few of us know the whole story.

And I sort of said, “Well, Gird up your loins. If that’s, in fact, a problem in our criminal justice system, we have to confront it. We can’t simply avert our eyes.”

— John Boger

Life of the Law reporter Sarah Marshall traveled to Georgia to learn more about the man whose name has come to symbolize the end of equal protection under the law in America.  

We’ll present our story in two parts. This week, Part 1: UNEQUAL PROTECTION. 


Suggested Reading:

Imprisoned by the Past by Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier

The Supreme Court is Afraid of Racial Justice by Osagie Obasagie, The New York Times

I Shall Not Die: Seventy-Two Hours on Death Watch by Billy Neal Moore

Race, Poverty, and American Cities  by John Charles Boger and Judith Welch Wagner





Production Notes

Unequal Protection was reported by Sarah Marshall, edited by Nancy Mullane, and produced by our Senior Producer, Tony Gannon. 

Our Post Production Editors are Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle and Rachael Cain.

Our engineers were Sara Melancon of Marfa Public Radio and Howard Gelman of KQED Radio in San Francisco. Music in this episode was composed and produced by Ian Coss. Special thanks to Tony Gannon, our Senior Producer for recording Supreme Court Justice William Brennan’s dissent in McCleskey v Kemp for our story.

Transcript of Unequal Protection: Part 1


This episode of Life of the Law was funded in part by grants from the Open Society Foundations, the Law and Society Association, and the National Science Foundation.

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