Aisha Ginwalla


In June 1991, the United States Supreme Court, in Harmelin v. Michigan, considered anew whether the Eighth Amendment clause prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment includes a proportionality requirement. The Court addressed the question: Is there a constitutional requirement that the length of a sentence be tailored to fit the crime? The opinions are closely divided, and reveal strong disagreement among the Justices over a wide array of constitutional issues, such as the historical standards to be used in interpreting the Constitution, the deference due to the principles of federalism, the limits of judicial review, and the balance to be struck between state interests and individual rights. This Note outlines the current debate on proportionality. As one commentator suggests, it is "easier to provide the perplexities" in this area than the answers.

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