This article is about how the Supreme Court justices decided two cases--Furman v. Georgia (1972; in which the court struck down a death penalty law in Georgia because it did not guide jury discretion) and the later Gregg v. Georgia (1976; in which the court upheld guided-discretion statutes). The authors called on interviews of over fifty people involved in the litigation and decision of the cases, including academics, lawyers, law clerks, and others. The authors state that conventional legal research, which relies on published opinions and regards the court as having one voice, is not useful. Instead, they advocate a "mixed jurisprudential model" and look at justices' individual behaviors. The authors state that it is important to understand how Supreme Court cases are decided and that justices do not simply "robotically interpret text."
The authors consider the historical context of the two death penalty cases they discuss. They note that Furman v. Georgia was a 5-4 decision and that each member of the majority had a different take on the case. They also discuss models of judicial decision making, including legalism (the idea that judges simply interpret written laws); attitudinalism (that justices make decisions based on their political preferences); institutionalism (that justices make decisions based on legal institutions); and mixed models.