Europe and the American death penalty

death-penaltyTypically, the only countries that try to tell the United States what to do are in the company of North Korea and Venezuela.

Europe definitely doesn’t make a habit of condemning the policies of the U.S. government and certainly not the policies of specific state governments. Part of that is that it would be unlikely to accomplish much. Part of it is a recognition that they would not like the U.S., a peer nation among developed democracies, telling them what to do at home, either.

They may disagree privately or shake their heads, but it’s rare for European leaders to say anything in an official capacity or to do anything substantive about it. This may be changing a bit in light of the NSA scandals, but there’s also actually already been one fairly quiet exception: the U.S. death penalty. They’ve been very firm on the issue and are increasingly ramping up official activism to end it.

As detailed in a new analysis from The Atlantic, the European Union is an ardent opponent of the death penalty as an organization (and composed of many member nations who have been active on the issue) and has been bringing down the hammer on the U.S. for the practice.

The EU has made it very difficult for U.S. states to purchase lethal injection-related drugs & ingredients from European pharmaceutical firms, who are major suppliers of the necessary dual-use components. (This put so much pressure on states that the Federal DEA caught some states allegedly trying to buy the drugs illegally from back-alley dealers in Europe!) National governments in the EU have also point-blank refused to provide the U.S. government with supplies for Federal lethal injection executions when officially requested. The Supreme Court has frowned upon other execution methods in the past. So without the injection cocktails, they may suspend the death penalty again, as they did several decades ago for a few years.

The European Union has also officially filed amicus briefs repeatedly with the U.S. Supreme Court in cases on youth executions, executions of the mentally disabled, executions in general, and lethal injections specifically. In all these briefs — including one specifically cited, very controversially, by Justice Kennedy last decade — the EU officially urges the Supreme Court to block the death penalty. Generally the briefs also offer mountains of data from other countries to help bolster “cruel & unusual punishment” constitutionality arguments by U.S. opponents, on the grounds that it’s unusual if fewer and fewer countries are still doing it, particularly among peer nations, where it has been virtually abolished. More recently, the EU has even helped bankroll U.S. pro-repeal organizations.

In the end, though, the drug sanctions may be the most effective in bringing the practice to an end. Let it not be said that the EU can’t apply forceful sanctions.

In the meantime, U.S. activists will continue to work to stop the United States from being a rogue nation with an outdated, embarrassing, racist, and expensive punishment that has the government killing innocent people and — in my belief — letting guilty people escape the punishment of having to sit in prison forever thinking about what they did. Right now, the trend is in the right direction. A third of the states which have ended the death penalty did so in just the past six years.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and a local elected official.
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