By Matthew Crowley
Despite the fact that capital punishment is still used in 31 states, there is increasing consciousness in the country and among lawmakers that the practice appears to be on its last breath.
In May 2015 Nebraska became the first Republican controlled state in over four decades to abolish the practice when legislators opposed their Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, and overrode the governor’s veto of the bill intended to repeal the state’s death penalty law.
Following this defeat, the governor gave a statement saying, “My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families. While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.”
However other conservative states are not in agreement with Gov. Ricketts, and instead are following suit to abolish the practice in their own states. Just in the last year 10 conservative lawmakers sponsored legislation to repeal the death penalty in their own states.
One prime example is Utah’s state Senator Steve Urquhart, who told The Washington Post, “I’m thinking that it’s wrong for government to be in business in killing its own citizens…That cheapens life.”
Even the Supreme Court is currently at an impasse regarding death penalty. With the passing of prominent conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court is now deadlocked over a scheduled execution of an Alabama death row inmate. Vernon Madison, the man convicted of killing Julius Schulte, a police officer, was given a new shot at life when a state court blocked his execution citing his mental state.
If Justice Scalia were still present he would likely have been able to overrule the judgment with his vote, but with the noted member of the Supreme Court now gone it appears that the remaining Justices are wary of making any controversial decisions.
Earlier last year after another heated debate regarding the death penalty, Justice Stephen Bryer wrote, “Rather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.”
It’s doubtful that the Supreme Court will take on the constitutionality of capital punishment with only eight members, but states are making slow and steady progress in outlawing the practice nonetheless.
The younger generation of the GOP party is now arguing that death penalty is inconsistent with the GOP pro-life stance and not fiscally sound. Former Kansas College Republicans president Dalton Glasscock told The Washington Post, “My generation is looking for consistency on issues,” he said. “I believe if we say we’re pro-life, we need to be truly pro-life, from conception to death.”
It’s interesting to note that the United States is one of the very few Western countries that still utilize the death penalty. A 2013 Amnesty International report shows that America finds itself in the questionable company of Iran, China, Somalia, Sudan and North Korea as the only countries still consistently executing people.
When we find ourselves in ranks with totalitarian governments that have little to no respect for human rights we must question some of our country’s outdated laws and bring about action to change them.
Matthew Crowley is a criminal defense attorney in Manassas who works out of Price Benowitz LLP’s Manassas office. Mr. Crowley is the former President of the Culpeper Bar Association and he represents clients facing sensitive misdemeanor charges like DUI, as well as serious felony cases.