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Rummel v. Estelle

Three-time Loser, Cruel And Unusual?, The Nature Of Proportionality, Impact, Legal Malpractice


William James Rummel


Estelle, Corrections Director for the State of Texas

Petitioner's Claim

That Article 63 of the Penal Code of the state of Texas, which mandated that a person convicted of three felonies would receive a life sentence as a recidivist criminal, violated Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Scott J. Atlas

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

Douglas M. Becker

Justices for the Court

Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, William H. Rehnquist (writing for the Court), Potter Stewart, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting

William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., John Paul Stevens


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

18 March 1980


Upheld the state of Texas and affirmed the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, finding that Article 63 of the Texas Penal Code did not violate the constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment of criminals.


Established that a severe penalty for repeat offenders was not a violation of the protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Related Cases

  • Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 367 (1910).
  • Graham v. West Virginia, 224 U.S. 616 (1912).
  • Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277 (1983).
  • Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 294 (1991).


West's Encyclopedia of American Law, Vol. 7. Minneapolis, MN: West Publishing, 1998.

Further Readings

  • Biskupic, Joan, and Elder Witt, eds. Guide to the Supreme Court of the United States. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1997.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980