Thursday, May 28, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Nebraska Turns Away from the Death Penalty

In a move that surprised many people (including me), Nebraska became the seventh state in the last decade to get rid of the death penalty (joining New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Maryland).

Intriguingly, Nebraska's unicameral legislature overrode the Governor's veto to complete the job. Some of the legislators cited their Christian faith as a reason for their vote against capital punishment.

Much has been made of the fact that Nebraska is a conservative state, and the first one to rid itself of the death penalty since 1973, when North Dakota made that choice.  However, there are other conservative states that don't have the death penalty.  For example, a few years ago I spoke in Alaska on this subject. Alaska has not had the death penalty since statehood began, and there seems to be little movement now towards embracing it. The fact is that for a less-populated state like Nebraska or Alaska, the mechanisms required by capital punishment-- legal and institutional-- are particularly expensive because the penalty is rarely used.

In urging the legislature to sustain his veto, Governor Pete Ricketts cited a 2002 bank robbery/murder. That kind of argument always seems odd to me; after all, the presence of the death penalty didn't deter those murders.

Even though I obviously have a position on this issue, I acknowledge that there are principled arguments on both sides of the question of capital punishment. I do know that American law and opinion is evolving on this issue, and I'm very glad to see that.

I have always been confused by the Republican view on capital punishment. For a party that seeks to identify itself with Christianity, it just seems odd to support the execution of another human being. It also stands in contrast to the party view on abortion: terminating a fetus = murder, but executing a human being = sound core criminal justice practice.

I am very curious to see how this apparent change in ideology glregarding capital punishment as well as a growing trend towards moving away from "mass incarceration" will affect the GOP presidential debates. I expect some fringe candidates will voice nontraditional platforms in an effort to draw more moderate voters.

It will be an interesting, and likely frustrating, year and a half.
Gavin, it's a pretty exciting time to care about these issues, because suddenly there are some unexpected voices in favor of reform. The last two cycles, no one paid attention...
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