Justice quizzed on death penalty

This article was originally published by Gannett News Service and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

WASHINGTON — Mississippi Justice James Graves Jr. clarified his position on the death penalty Wednesday during a Senate hearing on his nomination for a federal judgeship.

Responding to a question from Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Graves explained that he joined a dissenting opinion in a capital murder case for reasons related only to claims by the defendant, Anthony Doss, that his attorneys had been ineffective and that he was mentally retarded.

"I take responsibility for joining that opinion, but I have not now nor have I ever subscribed to any point of view that the death penalty was unconstitutional," Graves told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The United States Supreme Court has determined that the death penalty does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. I would follow the law as handed down by the United States Supreme Court."

Graves, 56, is a nominee for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which hears appeals from case in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

He pointed to his nine years as a Mississippi justice, during which he voted to affirm convictions and the death penalty in at least a dozen capital punishment cases.

Graves is the only black justice on the court, which he joined in 2001. Before that, he was a Hinds County Circuit judge for 10 years.

He holds a bachelor's degree from Millsaps College and law and master's degrees from Syracuse University.

Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, both Mississippi Republicans, testified in support of Graves' nomination, which President Barack Obama announced in June.
Wicker cited Graves' "remarkable service to the public, in addition to the education and professional accomplishments."

Graves also testified about his service on the board of Operation Shoestring, whose educational and after-school programs help poor children in Jackson, and his work for the Mississippi Children's Museum, which is set to open this fall.

If confirmed, Graves would replace 5th Circuit Judge Rhesa Barksdale, who took senior status last fall, meaning he works part time but still hears court cases annually.