I’m getting tired of people suggesting state and federal legislators should pass bills with morally reprehensible amendments and carveouts/omissions just to make it “easier.” These advocates have a critically flawed, short-termist view of governance that is ultimately more harmful than helpful.
Here’s a simple rule: Do it right or don’t do it at all.
What this means in practice: Don’t amend out special exceptions that undermine the moral integrity of the overall law. Examples: Don’t leave out trans people from your employment and accommodations non-discrimination bills. Don’t leave exceptions to your death penalty bans. Don’t create loopholes against reproductive freedom (e.g. Hyde). Stop passing bills with giant gaping holes in them just to help some people, when in doing so you’ll make it harder to go back for those you left behind.
This is not a case against compromise. This is a case for understanding how compromise should function at a systemic level. This is a case for making compromise work for you in the long-term, instead of the short-term at the expense of the longer view.
Incremental compromises, when needed, should move everyone forward, not just some. It is a massive political misunderstanding to think that it’s better to establish protections and programs for some people, instead of for all people. Making laws for everyone, without carve-outs, is both consistent with the principles of equality before the law as well as politically more sound, within both the voting public and among legislators themselves.
If it’s politically hard to pass reforms and protections for some people, it’s obviously going to be even harder to do it later for a smaller subset you left out. It is easier (and morally better) to pass laws that protect & help everyone, even if you have to wait, than to sell out some of our society so that others of us are helped.
This is the principle of true solidarity: We all sacrifice a little bit longer so that we’re stronger together and no one has to sacrifice/suffer alone for our advances.
BBC News Magazine: “Why is one county handing down one in six US death sentences?”
Judged by the number of death sentences handed down, Riverside [County, California] has ranked no lower than third among the US’s more than 3,000 counties since 2012, and was first in 2015.
“The county is the most glaring example of a phenomenon that is being seen across the US, which is that even though the death penalty is in broad decline across most of America, there are individual pockets that continue to disproportionately use it,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
He cites a 2013 report done by the centre which found that the majority of people on death row in the US were sentenced to death by fewer than 2% of the counties.
California had 746 people on death row in January 2015, far ahead of the state in second place – Florida, with 400.
Seems hard to square this with the Constitutional prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Another horrific death penalty episode, this time in Arizona, has resulted in a temporary suspension of the penalty in the state.
The execution of Mr. Wood was, by all accounts, an unusual one: Once a vein had been tapped, it took one hour and 52 minutes for the drugs pumped into him to do their work; the process dragged on long enough for Mr. Wood’s lawyers to file an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to stop the execution.
Some witnesses to Mr. Wood’s execution said that he gasped, seemingly for air, more than 600 times as he died. “The movement was like a piston: The mouth opened, the chest rose, the stomach convulsed,” wrote one witness, Michael Kiefer, a reporter for The Arizona Republic.
The episode has once again stoked the debate over the kinds and source of the drugs used in executions and led the state to promise an investigation. Mr. Wood’s execution was the fourth troubled one this year, and his injection was a two-drug combination — hydromorphone, an opioid painkiller that suppresses breathing, and midazolam, a sedative — that was used in a prolonged execution in Ohio in January.
States have been forced to improvise on lethal injection combos this year following an extensive effort by the European Union — where most of the ingredients originate — to ban exports of materials potentially used in executions to U.S. states with the death penalty. It’s no longer entirely clear in some states what exactly is being used, and even when the ingredients are disclosed, the effects (or effectiveness) are not fully known ahead of time.
The Attorney General of Arizona put a temporary halt on the state death penalty, pending a full inquiry into this week’s incident.
Meanwhile, the state Corrections chief insisted it had gone according to plan:
Charles L. Ryan, the director of the state’s Department of Corrections rejected the notion that the execution was botched, despite the fact that the procedure of death by lethal injection usually takes about 15 minutes. He said in a statement that an autopsy by the Pima County medical examiner, concluded on Thursday, found that the intravenous lines were “perfectly placed,” “the catheters in each arm were completely within the veins” and “there was no leakage of any kind.”
I get the sense that he doesn’t realize the implication of insisting this was not botched is that it was intended to be an agonizing 2 hour death. Unless, that was actually the goal, but I highly doubt it, given that intentionally cruel methods of execution would expose the state to very credible lawsuits on the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the 8th Amendment.
Iran has had a wave of pardons issued by victims’ families as the condemned were standing on the gallows platform awaiting execution. And notably, Iranian media is publishing and promoting this trend. TV anchors are rallying viewers in opposition to specific instances of the death penalty and people are even crowd-funding payoff money to buy the families’ pardons (which is legally permissible). However, the overall number of death sentences has been rising too, recently
So the question is: is this a PR stunt by the elective branches of the government to make the country look better, is it a power play between branches, or is it a genuine movement to curb the death penalty?
Among the big three state executors in the world — China, Iran, and the United States — it would be remarkable if Iran had a successful anti-death penalty mass movement before the United States.
And by remarkable, I mean that would be to America’s future enduring shame and discredit. Or would be, if our country was known for historical introspection and admission of error.
With EU chemical export bans taking their toll on lethal injection death penalty capacity in the States, Tennessee just re-legalized the electric chair and pro-death penalty activists in other states are pushing to bring back firing squads.
So, is a declining America just trying to ride the bomb down to the ground like a defiant Major Kong at this point?
Columbia Pictures (1964)
Typically, 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.
Sociological Images just posted about how the race of the victim determines whether the perpetrator gets the death penalty.
Even though half of all homicide victims are black, 77% of cases that result in the death penalty have a white victim. That’s a pretty clear indicator of what kind of lives we value.
The data is since 1976, and an Amnesty International report from 1990 shows similar patterns. Things might be improving (or they might not; it’s hard to find this kind of information), but they are still pretty bad:
A January 2003 study released by the University of Maryland concluded that race and geography are major factors in death penalty decisions. Specifically, prosecutors are more likely to seek a death sentence when the race of the victim is white and are less likely to seek a death sentence when the victim is African-American.
A 2007 study of death sentences in Connecticut conducted by Yale University School of Law revealed that African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white. In addition, killers of white victims are treated more severely than people who kill minorities, when it comes to deciding what charges to bring.
But let’s be cautious in how we handle this information: the solution should not be to give more people the death penalty, but to give fewer people the death penalty.
This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.