REVISION: The Death of Death Row Clemency and the Evolving Politics of Unequal Grace

By Michael Heise

While America’s appetite for capital punishment continues to wane over time, clemency for death row inmates is all but extinct. Moreover, what little clemency activity that persists continues to distribute unevenly across gender, racial and ethnic groups, geography, governors’ political affiliation, and over time. Insofar as courts appear extremely reluctant to review – let alone interfere with – clemency activity, little, if any, formal legal recourse exists. Results from this study of clemency activity on state death rows (1973-2010) suggest that potential problems arise, however, to the extent that our criminal justice system relies on clemency to function as coherent extrajudicial check.

Michael Heise Professor of Law
Photo of Michael Heise

Contact Information

Cornell Law School
308 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901

Phone: (607) 255-0069
Fax: (607) 255-7193


Gina Jackson
Cornell Law School
315 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901

Professional Biography

Michael Heise's research focuses on bridging empirical methodologies and legal theory. He earned an A.B. from Stanford University, a J.D. from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1987.

Professor Heise served as Senior Legal Counsel to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education and later as Deputy Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Education. He entered academia in 1994 as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Indiana University School of Law, becoming Assistant Professor in 1995, and Associate Professor in 1999 before moving to Case Western Reserve University as Professor of Law. He joined the Cornell Law School faculty as Professor of Law in 2003.

His research and teaching areas include torts, law and education policy, insurance, constitutional law, and empirical methods. Professor Heise has co-edited the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies since 2005 and is a Founding Director of the Society for Empirical Legal Studies.


A.B., Stanford University 1983
J.D., University of Chicago 1987
Ph.D., Northwestern University 1990