Bravo, Nebraska: The first conservative state to repeal the #deathpenalty in 40 years

Thursday, May 28, 2015

While I normally scoff at the concept of American exceptionalism, there is one area in which that concept legitimately applies, to our shame: the U.S. is now the only highly developed country in the world that still executes criminals. While this is partly a function of our somewhat unique governance structure - criminal prosecution is up to each state, and nearly half of them have abolished the death penalty entirely - it is still on the books at the federal level for a handful of crimes (e.g., treason). Whether a pending Supreme Court decision will abolish it remains to be seen. In the meantime, the solidly conservative midwestern state of Nebraska defied the odds and legally abolished it, overriding the governor's veto:
The state has a unicameral legislature in which all bills must be voted on three times. The bill to abolish the death penalty passed all three rounds, 30-16, 30-13, and finally 32-15 in its third vote. The governor vetoed the bill on Tuesday.

Legislators needed 30 votes to override the veto, and it earned 30. Nineteen voted against. The repeal is the latest move in what some experts believe is a new conservative push against executions.
Let's hope so. Frankly, the fact that so many conservatives are in favor of it, despite many of them claiming to be religious (the risk of executing innocent people is very real considering the number of death penalty sentences overturned on the basis of new evidence) and being in favor of reducing spending (it is much more expensive to execute someone than it is to imprison them for life), is shocking to me. But Nebraska's governor was willing to go to extremes to be able to carry out executions:
Executions in the US have ground nearly to a halt this year as states wait to hear the result of a supreme court argument over whether one state’s execution protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The case, Glossip v Gross, was argued in the Supreme Court in April, and focuses on the drug cocktail used to carry out Oklahoma death sentences.

The state’s reliance on the drug midazolam led to the high-profile “botched” execution of Clayton Lockett, in which it took 43 minutes for the man to be pronounced dead. That led to a challenge by Oklahoma inmate Richard Glossip. Several death penalty states have relied on the drug as part of an execution cocktail since pentobarbital, long used for executions, became scarce as the result of a European-led boycott of execution drugs.

Nebraska does not use midazolam in its lethal injection process, but instead relies on a cocktail of similar drugs, which the governor recently said he had secured from a pharmacy in India.
Hopefully Nebraska will serve as an example to the rest of the holdout states (although I predict that my own - Texas - will be the last to abolish it, if they ever do); that is, unless the Supreme Court renders the issue moot.

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