Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Speaks on the Death Penalty and Pennsylvania Capital Jurisprudence
Web Editor and Harrisburg Web Correspondent - Published: April 11, 2013
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas G. Saylor, who has served as the Widener Law & Government Institute’s Distinguished Jurist in Residence since 2009, delivered the annual Jurist in Residence Lecture on Thursday, April 4th.

The lecture, “Death-Penalty Stewardship and the Current State of Pennsylvania Capital Jurisprudence,” analyzed some of the cases that have had a significant impact on capital jurisprudence, including the Supreme Court’s decision in Furman v. Georgia that led to the suspension of the death penalty throughout the United States between 1972 and 1976 and Strickland v. Washington, in which the United States Supreme Court established a two-pronged test for resolving claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. He touched on how the test established in the Strickland decision proved important to cases such as Williams v. Taylor and Wiggins v. Smith, in which the Supreme Court articulated the standards for effective legal counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

Justice Saylor then turned to a consideration of death penalty trials in Pennsylvania and the systematic challenge to the system in Philadelphia. He discussed the issue of attorney with limited capital case experience and emphasized the importance of improving the capital judicial proceedings in Pennsylvania, but also acknowledged that there are a number of very effective capital attorneys in Philadelphia. He concluded by suggesting that is possible to implement the policies necessary to improve the system.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Professor John L. Gedid, the Director of Widener’s Law & Government Institute, presented Justice Saylor with a Jurist in Residence Award “in recognition of his distinguished teaching and mentoring” in his role as Jurist in Residence from 2009 to 2013. A short reception followed the program.

Justice Saylor earned his law degree from Columbia University in 1972 and a master of laws degree in judicial studies from the University of Virginia. He served as first assistant district attorney of his native Somerset County until 1982, when he was appointed director of the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Protection. In 1984 he was appointed first deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania. Elected to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in 1993, he was later elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1997 and was retained in 2007 for a second, ten-year term on the Supreme Court. His law review and judicial opinion writings establish his expertise in constitutional law – especially state constitutional law, administrative law and judicial review.