January 26, 2010
"Why doesn't O'Malley clear death row?"The title of this post is the headline of this potent commentary by Charles Lane at the Washington Post, which wonders why the strong anti-death-penalty rhetoric coming from the Governor of Maryland has yet to turn into strong anti-death penalty action. The whole piece is a must-read, and here are excerpts:
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley staunchly opposes the death penalty: Given its flaws -- the lack of deterrent impact, the risk of a wrongful execution, high costs -- capital punishment can be neither morally nor practically justified, he argues.
The issue moves him to eloquence. “Human dignity is the fundamental belief on which the laws of this state and this republic are founded,” O’Malley wrote in a 2007 Post op-ed. “And absent a deterrent value, the damage done to the concept of human dignity by our conscious communal use of the death penalty is greater than the benefit of even a justly drawn retribution.”
As governor, O’Malley supported the creation of a Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which called for the abolition of the death penalty based on racial bias and other alleged inequities in the Maryland death penalty. Brandishing those findings, the governor fought for an abolition law last year, falling just short of victory....
But I wonder: If O’Malley is so courageous, and this is such an issue of principle for him, why are there still five people on death row in Maryland? Why doesn’t he commute their sentences to life imprisonment, as Maryland’s constitution and laws empower him to do? It would certainly be a more permanent -- and forthright -- approach than this indirect foot-dragging routine with the lethal injection protocols....
When the governor visited The Post on Jan. 21, I asked him these questions -- ready for almost any response but the stunningly unconvincing one he actually gave. O’Malley suggested that there might be some technical problem with a simultaneous commutation of all five sentences. “I don’t know off the top of my head legally whether I’d be prohibited from doing the joint blanket commutation or not,” he mused, adding that “the best course to follow is to handle each case individually.”
Okay, a colleague ventured, what about doing them one at a time? O’Malley hemmed and hawed again, offering a defense of his anti-death penalty legislative efforts and taking credit for Maryland’s improving murder rate. “Of course part of my duties require me to evaluate requests for pardons, requests for commutations and other things, and I’ll handle them in the due course,” he concluded....
For the record, according to several experts on the subject with whom I spoke, nothing in Maryland law prohibits the governor from pardoning or commuting the sentences of any prisoner or prisoners he wants, for whatever reason he wants, whether or not the prisoner requests clemency first.
O’Malley’s inability to muster one plausible, principled reason not to commute the death sentences tells me that he’s playing politics. O’Malley’s liberal Democratic party base dislikes the death penalty. But, overall, voters in the state support it 53 percent to 41 percent -- and much of that support is concentrated in Baltimore County, a swing jurisdiction in statewide elections. Clearing death row might turn pro-death penalty voters against O’Malley and hurt his re-election chances this fall.
January 26, 2010 at 07:49 AM | Permalink
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Gee...maybe this also means that Democratic candidates don't really disagree with same-sex marriage, but they use civil unions to avoid teeing off an American public that is generally against it...
But Santa Claus is still real, right?
Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 26, 2010 8:50:04 AM
I had not previously been aware that respecting existing state law, the views of the majority of the electorate, and the unanimous judgment of the juries in each of these cases amounts to "playing politics."
One might think that "playing politics" would consist of granting unearned leniency to killers simply to be able to preen before the Washington Post editorial board (whose endorsement is highly sought-after in Maryland politics).
Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 26, 2010 12:03:12 PM
Interesting how Lane didn't seem to have a concern about the rug being pulled out from under the victims' families or what the slow-walk of the regs has to say about the rule of law.
Posted by: federalist | Jan 26, 2010 4:22:21 PM
In contrast to his temporizing in death cases, O'Malley has been forthright and firm in his refusal to grant pardon to anyone, no matter how fully rehabilitated, something that his Republican predecessor Bob Ehrlich did with courage and conviction.
Posted by: margy | Jan 26, 2010 9:00:53 PM