Kemmler, In Re 136 U.S. 436 (1890) Mcelvaine v. Brush 142 U.S. 155 (1891) O'Neil v. Vermont 144 U.S. 155 (1892)
KEMMLER, IN RE 136 U.S. 436 (1890) MCELVAINE v. BRUSH 142 U.S. 155 (1891) O'NEIL v. VERMONT 144 U.S. 155 (1892)
These cases dealt with the meaning of the ban on cruel and unusual punishment and with the incorporation doctrine of the fourteenth amendment. Kemmler was sentenced to die in the electric chair, then recently invented. He argued that infliction of death by that device would violate the Fourteenth Amendment, because its privileges and immunities clause or its due process clause meant that no state could inflict a cruel execution. The Court unanimously ruled that a cruel execution would be one involving torture or lingering death, "something inhuman and barbarous," but that the electric chair was a "humane" form of execution. The Court also held that no clause of the Fourteenth Amendment banned punishments not deemed cruel by state courts. Unlike Kemmler, McElvaine explicitly argued that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel punishments; he also argued that solitary confinement of a convict sentenced to death was cruel. Unanimously the Court met and rejected both contentions. In O'Neil's case, however, Justices stephen j. field, david j. brewer, and john marshall harlan in dissenting opinions declared that the Fourteenth Amendment applied Eighth Amendment rights and all "fundamental" rights to the states.
Leonard W. Levy