Redeeming Justice

63 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2020

See all articles by Rachel Lopez

Rachel Lopez

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); University of Cambridge - Lauterpacht Centre for International Law; Yale University - Law School

Terrell Carter

Villanova University

Kempis Songster

Amistad Law Project

Date Written: November 11, 2020


Approximately three decades ago, two co-authors of this Article were sentenced to die in prison. According to the United States Supreme Court, this sentence represented a determination that they were irredeemable. This article will interrogate the legal determination that there are some human beings who are incapable of redemption. In doing so, the article grapples with a basic, yet weighty question. Specifically, it examines whether, as a matter of law, the capacity for change is so core to the human condition that all people have an inalienable right to pursue personal redemption. It also documents the dehumanizing effect of codified condemnation and the struggle for humanity in the face of a legal system that has said: you are not worthy.

Drawing from human rights law and the lived experience of the co-authors, this Article argues that the capacity for redemption is an innate human characteristic, fundamentally intertwined with the legal concept of human dignity. Taking a pragmatic approach to human rights jurisprudence, it will contend that all humans have a right to redemption and that this right is embedded in the Eighth Amendment through the latent concept of human dignity.

Such a reading of the Eighth Amendment would require a dramatic re-imagination of our criminal legal system. One that elevates humanity, not deprives it. One that creates opportunities for healing and human development, not denies it. As a starting point, it will require that the law never make impermeable decisions about the human capacity for redemption. Rather, the law should restore hope that change is always possible.

Keywords: LWOP, Eighth Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment, human dignity, human rights law, European Court of Human Rights, Vinter, Immanuel Kant, Hans Kelsen, life sentence, redemption, right to hope, Miller v. Alabama

Suggested Citation

Lopez, Rachel and Carter, Terrell and Songster, Kempis, Redeeming Justice (November 11, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Rachel Lopez (Contact Author)

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law ( email )

3320 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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University of Cambridge - Lauterpacht Centre for International Law ( email )

Lauterpacht Centre for International Law
5 Cranmer Centre
Cambridge, CB3 9BL
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

Terrell Carter

Villanova University

Villanova, PA 19085
United States

Kempis Songster

Amistad Law Project ( email )

United States

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