An issue that had completely disappeared from my view was thrust in front of me this morning when I opened the U-T to find that a repeal of the death penalty had qualified as a California ballot initiative for November. I am not in the mainstream of conservative thought in my opposition to the death penalty; but my reasons that should resonate with tea party and conservative thought.
The tea party is nothing if not skeptical of government. Yet through the death penalty, we entrust to government the ultimate power of deciding the life or death of American citizens. I do not trust that our institutions of justice can apply the penalty fairly or without error. The thought of a man (and it is usually men) who would be wrongfully put to death is too horrible to contemplate. Yet, we have any number of cases where those on death row have been exonerated. My skepticism of government leads me to conclude that it cannot be trusted with a task such as deciding life and death, even of criminals.
The death penalty is expensive to carry out, surely a factor for fiscal conservatives. One might argue that part of the reason it is so expensive is that the appeals process can be abused or over used. However, given that some on death row have been later exonerated and given the finality of the sentence, can one blame defense attorneys for using all available means to prevent the execution of their clients? Of necessity, the process will be costly in our system of justice.
I do not believe that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to murder. The studies are mixed but reputable scholars who have good pedigree in statistical methods assert that the studies do not show high correlation with deterrence. From Jeffrey Fagan’s testimony.
These studies fail to reach the demanding standards of social science to make such strong claims, standards such as replication and basic comparisons with other scenarios. Some simple examples and contrasts, including a careful analysis of the experience in New York State compared to others, lead to a rejection of the idea that either death sentences or executions deter murder.
I am pro-life, and I am sure many of my readers would identify themselves as such. I cannot condone the state sponsored killing of any human being. Euthenasia, abortion and the death penalty have this in common, they take human life based on the judgement of other human beings under government approval. We have seen earlier where argument for “after-birth” abortion based on the same logic that leads to allowing abortion. Similarly, it seems inconsistent to be pro-life and in favor of the death penalty. We should be against “death panels” and the death penalty, because only by respecting the sanctity of all human life can we restore a moral foundation for our society that has been lost through the widespread acceptance of abortion.
Further, there is evidence that the race of the victim is highly correlated with whether the death penalty is applied. Even if we find causal factors other than race for this outcome, it is not acceptable in our desire for a color blind society. This disparate outcome gives rise to great moral passions that undermine respect for the rule of law.
As a Christian, though not a Catholic, I still look to the Pope for moral inspiration and guidance. Here is some of what Pope John Paul said in 1995.
Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) says that punishment “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity,” that is, only when it would be otherwise impossible to defend society. And the pope teaches that such cases of absolute necessity where society cannot be defended in any other way are “very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” (#56) That view is echoed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which applies the principle of self-defense to the protection of society, and states:
“Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
“If however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” (#2267)
I would ask fellow conservatives to consider voting to abolish the death penalty this November.