HUMS 035, The American Death Penalty

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1pm-2:15pm
Spring 2022

Course Description:

This first-year seminar focuses on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 44-year experiment in regulating the American death penalty. The aims of the course are to have students learn about the workings and history of the system of capital punishment in the U.S, which is one of the most controversial elements of American criminal justice, and decide whether, in their view, the experiment is succeeding or failing—why and how. For students interested in the criminal justice system.

Led By:

Lincoln Caplan

Professor Lincoln Caplan

Lincoln Caplan is the Truman Capote Visiting Lecturer in Law and a Senior Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School. He is the author of The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of LawSkadden: Power, Money and the Rise of an EmpireUp Against the Law: Affirmative Action and the Supreme Court, and other books about the law. He is a regular contributor to The American Scholar, where he is a member of the editorial board, and to Harvard Magazine. He wrote about the Supreme Court as a member of the editorial board of The New York Times, was the editor and president of Legal Affairs magazine, and was a staff writer for The New Yorker whose website he has contributed to. He is a former Guggenheim Fellow, White House Fellow, and Fellow of Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center. His most recent book, American Justice 2016: the Political Supreme Court, about the Court’s 2015 Term, was published in October of 2016. He is the writing tutor at Yale’s Davenport College.


This course was previously offered in the Spring of 2021. These testimonials are taken from course evaluations:

  • “Professor Caplan is an incredible professor who is very well-versed in and passionate about the topic. He is also just a great guy who is very understanding. There were was never a dull class, he always knew how to keep the discussion moving and relevant.”
  • “Absolutely. Definitely take this course if you are at all interested in the topic, the American criminal justice system in general, or even if you don’t know much about or think you know everything about the death penalty already. You will definitely learn something new in this course!”
  • “I learned how to analyze and read complex works of writing, such as law reviews, studies, and justice opinions. I was able to discuss complex topics relating to the death penalty with my peers, and even debate on the issue in class. I also learned how to write arguments relating to my state and specific topics surrounding the death penalty.”