According to Nobel Prize nominating rules, any "professor of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology" and any judge or national legislator in any country, among others, can nominate anyone for a Nobel Peace Prize. Past nominees include Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Fidel Castro. Any "professor of literature [or] of linguistics," among others, can nominate anyone for a Nobel Prize in literature.
Naturally, many nominees have real merit. But being nominated by one or a few of the hundreds of thousands of eligible nominators is little evidence of such merit. This is especially so when the nominee is a source of controversy, and when it may seem that nominating him may prevent his execution.
It would surely be helpful to readers if news stories mentioning Williams' nominations — or, for that matter, any Nobel peace or literature prize nominations — stressed how unselective the nomination process is.
We're used to prize nominations signifying relatively broad acclaim, as for an Oscar. When a nomination means nothing other than a recommendation from a professor (or even a few professors and a legislator), that should to be made clear.
Besides, a convicted murderer's nominations for Nobel prizes shed little light on the complex question of whether he is sincerely contrite, whether he has done good deeds and whether his life should be spared.
Eugene Volokh is a professor of law at UCLA Law School.