A great and decent man has died; scholar, researcher, teacher, colleague and friend, David Baldus. He and his wife, Joyce Carman, were special friends of Mary and me. And the memories I like to recall at this time are not just of our conversations in his office or mine, or when waiting for the coffee to brew in the faculty lounge, but of our times together each summer on their pontoon boat on the Coralville Reservoir.
But his life was also such as to be memorialized in the pages of everything from the New York Times, immediately below, to his university's paper, The Daily Iowan, below that.
[Hopefully, both papers will recognize this reproduction of their stories as Fair Use. If not, their emailed requests that their stories be removed from this blog entry will be promptly honored.]
New York Times
June 15, 2011, p. B13
David C. Baldus, whose pioneering research on race and the death penalty came within a vote of persuading the Supreme Court to make fundamental changes in the capital justice system, died on Monday at his home in Iowa City. He was 75. [Photo credit: Tom Langdon, University of Iowa.]
The cause was complications of colon cancer, his wife, Joyce C. Carman, said.
Professor Baldus’s work was at the center of a 1987 Supreme Court decision, McCleskey v. Kemp, which ruled that even solid statistical evidence of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty did not offend the Constitution. The 5-to-4 ruling closed off what had seemed to opponents of the death penalty a promising line of attack.
The Supreme Court had reinstated the death penalty in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia after a four-year moratorium. Georgia and other states had in the meantime enacted provisions meant to address discrimination in capital punishment.
“It seemed to us that Gregg had indulged the assumption that race had been flushed out of the system,” said John C. Boger, who argued the McCleskey case for the defendant and who is now dean of the University of North Carolina School of Law.
Professor Baldus, a longtime faculty member at the University of Iowa College of Law, and two colleagues, Charles Pulaski and George Woodworth, set out to test that assumption. Their study examined more than 2,000 murders in Georgia, controlling for some 230 variables.
The study’s findings have often been misunderstood. They did not show that blacks were significantly more likely to be sentenced to death than whites. What the study found was that people accused of killing white victims were four times as likely to be sentenced to death as those accused of killing black victims. In other words, a death sentence often hinged not on the race of the defendant but on the race of the victim.
Professor Baldus’s work was meticulous, said Anthony G. Amsterdam, a law professor at New York University and an authority on the death penalty. “Dave had a unique genius for digging into masses of messy factual information and discovering crucial human forces at work behind the purportedly impersonal administration of criminal law,” Professor Amsterdam said.
The study was presented to the Supreme Court by lawyers for Warren McCleskey, a black man sentenced to die for killing a white police officer. “David was really the whole foundation of the case,” Dean Boger said.
But Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., writing for the majority, said individual criminal cases cannot be decided on the basis of social science research, however sound.
“In light of the safeguards designed to minimize racial bias in the process, the fundamental value of jury trial in our criminal justice system, and the benefits that discretion provides to criminal defendants,” Justice Powell wrote, “we hold that the Baldus study does not demonstrate a constitutionally significant risk of racial bias affecting the Georgia capital sentencing process.”
In 1991, after he retired, Justice Powell was asked whether there was any vote he would have liked to change.
“Yes,” he told his biographer, John C. Jeffries Jr. “McCleskey v. Kemp.”
Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired last year and who was one of the dissenters, wrote about the case in December in The New York Review of Books.
“That the murder of black victims is treated as less culpable than the murder of white victims provides a haunting reminder of once-prevalent Southern lynchings,” Justice Stevens wrote.
David Christopher Baldus was born in Wheeling, W.Va., on June 23, 1935. He was educated at Dartmouth College, the University of Pittsburgh and Yale Law School. He joined the University of Iowa College of Law faculty in 1969.
Professor Baldus wrote two books, “Statistical Proof of Discrimination” and “Equal Justice and the Death Penalty.”
Professor Baldus’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a sister, Sue Gittins of Port Charlotte, Fla.; two daughters from his first marriage, Katherine Baldus and Helen Baldus, both of Brooklyn; and four stepchildren, Jeffrey Carman of Paducah, Ky., Craig Carman of Iowa City, and Kate Robinson and Glen Carman, both of Chicago.
In a 1995 speech on what he called “the death penalty dialogue between law and social science,” Professor Baldus considered what had led the Supreme Court to allow executions to proceed in the face of his study.
“Perhaps most important, in my estimation,” he said, “is that race-of-victim discrimination does not raise the same sort of moral concerns as race-of-defendant discrimination — even though, from a constitutional standpoint, discrimination on the basis of any racial aspect of the case is illegitimathttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gife.”
The Daily Iowan
June 14, 2011, p. A1
David Baldus wasn’t afraid to break the rules.
On a hiking trip to Canada with his wife, the two of them entered a trail not recommended for groups of fewer than six because of bears.
Instead of turning back, they continued on and shouted to scare off the bears.
“He was walking in front and shouting parts of Shakespeare,” said his wife, Joyce Carman. “The little parts that he loved so much.”
Baldus, a Joseph B. Tye Professor in the University of Iowa College of Law, died Monday morning after a 15-monthlong battle with cancer. He was 75.
He was a nationally renown scholar and lawyer, whose empirical work analyzed race discrimination in the United States, especially with concerns to the death penalty.
“His empirical work related to race and the death penalty was of really singular importance,” said UI law Professor Gerald Wetlaufer. “We’ll miss him a lot.”
Baldus was born in Wheeling, W.V. in 1935. He received a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1957. He loved traveling, sailing, and opera music, Carman said.
Baldus leaves behind two daughters, four stepchildren and eight grandchildren.
Daughter Katherine had planned to be married this weekend.
“He had hoped to be well enough to go to this wedding,” Carman said. “Truly one of his goals was to get to his daughter Katherine.”
Baldus came to Iowa in 1969 from a private practice in Pittsburgh. In 1976, he met Carman after friends set them up on a blind date. Four years later, they were married.
“[David] had a witty sense of humor … a lot of people didn’t see it, but when they did, it was quite effective,” Carman said.
During his time at the UI, Baldus published two books and many articles about race discrimination and the death penalty.
He was considered an expert in death-penalty law and litigation, said Eric Andersen, an associate dean of the UI law school and a close friend of Baldus’. He was continually asked to be an expert witness and was consulted in the world of law practice.
Baldus made an impact, not only in the academic world but also in his personal life.
“He has an infectious personality, he had a lively mind, and he had the ability to subordinate his own ego in order to get other people to work on a project constructively,” said Charles Pulaski, a longtime friend who cowrote several studies with Baldus.
And those close to Baldus said he left an impression not only in the courtroom but to those close to him.
“He is a great loss to those who knew him personally because he was an incredibly decent man, a wonderful colleague, a good friend and a giant of an intellectual leader,” said Arthur Bonfield, a UI law-school associate dean.
A funeral will be held at Lensing Funeral Home in Iowa City in July.