Document Type



Considerable scholarly attention has been devoted to the question of whether the application of the death penalty in the United States is racially biased. The legacy of the injustices and racial biases that Blacks experience in the United States continues to manifest in ways that have lethal consequences. The lethality of this is indicated by the fact that persons of color who are convicted of crimes punishable by the death penalty are more likely to receive the death sentence than whites convicted of the same crime. Regarding why this is the case, one needs to employ an approach designed to reveal the often hidden but powerful sources that explain why Blacks and people of color are more often subject to capital punishment than similar cases involving white perpetrators. Such an approach is provided by Critical Theory (CT) and Critical Race Theory (CRT). The second section of this thesis provides an overview of CT and CRT. Here, I demonstrate the appropriateness of CRT to questions on inequality (generally) and the unequal application of the death penalty (particularly). The third section applies CRT to the death penalty in the United States. The analysis and argument made here demonstrates that CRT can be used to explain the institutional mechanisms that lead to the unequal application of the death penalty. Having used CRT to identify problems with the application of the death penalty, the fourth section of this thesis shifts focus to what, if anything, should be done about this injustice. Employing insights from the scholarly literatures on reconciliation and restorative justice, I contend that the most appropriate means of confronting capital punishment and the inconsistency within its application is through the lens of transitional justice. Finally, the thesis concludes with a policy brief that offers a series of possible solutions to the concerns raised by CRT as applied to the death penalty in the United States.


Political Science

Thesis Comittee

Dr. Jordon B. Barkalow, Thesis Advisor
Dr. Rachel Navarre, Committee Member
Dr. Sidita Kushi, Committee Member