I am somewhat happy that this move is marginally less controversial than it would have been 25 years ago, but California Governor Gavin Newsom still has guts. From the Los Angeles Times:
Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign an executive order on Wednesday to impose a moratorium on the death penalty in California, vowing that no prisoner in the state will be executed while he is in office because of a belief that capital punishment is discriminatory, unjust and “inconsistent with our bedrock values.”
The order will prevent the state from putting prisoners to death by granting temporary reprieves to all 737 condemned inmates on California’s death row, the largest in the nation. It will immediately close the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison and scuttle the state’s ongoing efforts to devise a constitutional method for lethal injection. No inmate will be released and no sentence or conviction will be altered, the order says...
The action runs counter to the expressed will of California voters, who over the last six years rejected two statewide ballot measures to repeal the death penalty and favored fast-tracking the appeals process.
The death penalty retains much of its power to engage the lizard brain of the electorate if framed correctly and presented to the voters wrapped in a sufficiently bloody shirt. So what Newsom has done here is put a pretty big chunk of his political capital on the line. At least he's plainspoken about it.
“Our death penalty system has been - by any measure - a failure,” Newsom says in prepared remarks he is expected to deliver at a Capitol news conference Wednesday morning. “It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars.”
Newsom also argues in his remarks that the criminal justice system is susceptible to error, citing a November Los Angeles Times editorial that reported 164 condemned prisoners nationwide who were wrongly convicted have been freed from death row since 1973. He also cites a 2005 Santa Clara University Law Review study that concluded people convicted of killing whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than people convicted of killing blacks and Latinos.
The death penalty never will be fully compatible with an American system of justice that-theoretically, at least-is based on the presumption of innocence, the Sixth Amendment's guarantees of due process, and the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Given entrenched racial attitudes, it is unlikely that it ever can be fairly applied. And any attempt to wedge it into our system of justice is to, in the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, "tinker with the machinery of death." In the 21st century, it is a brutal anachronism. It is a waste of time, a waste of money, and a waste of the better parts of our national character.
As Blackmun wrote in 1994, in a lone dissent in a case in which the majority of the Supreme Court refused to grant an appeal brought by a Texas death-row inmate:
... it is clear that this Court is not prepared to meet the challenge. In apparent frustration over its inability to strike an appropriate balance between the Furman promise of consistency and the Lockett requirement of individualized sentencing, the Court has retreated from the field, allowing relevant mitigating evidence to be discarded, vague aggravating circumstances to be employed, and providing no indication that the problem of race in the administration of death will ever be addressed. In fact some members of the Court openly have acknowledged a willingness simply to pick one of the competing constitutional commands and sacrifice the other...
These developments are troubling, as they ensure that death will continue to be meted out in this country arbitrarily and discriminatorily, and without that "degree of respect due the uniqueness of the individual." (Lockett, 438 U. S., at 605.) In my view, the proper course when faced with irreconcilable constitutional commands is not to ignore one or the other, nor to pretend that the dilemma does not exist, but to admit the futility of the effort to harmonize them. This means accepting the fact that the death penalty cannot be administered in accord with our Constitution.
Gavin Newsom is the latest political figure to decide to leave the creaky machinery of death by the side of history's path, there to rust away.
Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page here.
('You Might Also Like',)