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November 3, 2010

What death penalty tea leaves might be read from the 2010 election cycle?

This local story from about a state race impacted by the high-profile capital case, which is titled "Death Penalty Politics Weigh on Connecticut Election," has me thinking out loud in this space about what the 2010 might mean in terms of death penalty law, policy and politics. 

One simple (and perhaps accurate) analysis might be to say that having more statehouses and more of Congress in the hands of Republicans will mean more politicians actively supporting the imposition of death sentences and seeking to speeding the path of those on death row to the execution chamber.  And yet, no intricate and dynamic story of law and policy that has so many motivated and involved non-elected players (i.e., defense lawyers and many judges) is ever fully captured via a simple analysis.

Indeed, death penalty opponents might find a silver lining in the the outcomes of races in California for Governor and Attorney General, two big races in which death penalty issues were raised and in which candidates with anti-death-penalty histories performed strongly.  (I believe the AG race will be going to a recount.)  Relatedly, Maryland re-elected an avowed abolitionist as its Governor, and Ohio voted out an incumbent Governor and AG who were extra tough on the death penalty and helped my Ohio the Texas of the north (though I doubt their replacements plan to take the state's foot off the execution pedal).

So, dear readers, do you think the death penalty continues a post-Baze comeback as a result of yesterday's election, or are there much bigger forces than just a mid-term now actively shaping the distinctly American modern capital punishment legal and policy story?

November 3, 2010 at 07:44 PM | Permalink


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Depending on how the Governor's race and recount are decided, CT's death penalty might be abolished within a year. In 2009 the House and Senate here voted to abolish, but Gov. M Jodi Rell vetoed. If Malloy stays true to his abolitionist sentiments, he will pass such legislation.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Nov 3, 2010 7:57:05 PM

Florida probably gets a Governor who will sign death warrants, unlike the faux Republican Charlie Crist.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 3, 2010 9:34:23 PM

If Kasich (new Ohio Governor) really "Stand(s) For Something", there will be a slowing of executions in Ohio. The old assumptions that Republicans are naturally and fundamentally for the death penalty are beginning to be questioned, not only by this result, but by other Republican activists around the US. An encouraging sign. Maybe others will now be encouraged to speak out and place their views honestly on election material. Too bad Strickland didn't fully act on his own stated beliefs when he had the chance.

Posted by: peter | Nov 4, 2010 4:26:54 AM


With Connecticut, if the gov goes dem, the death penalty will be repealed, if the same votes occur in the legislature.

As with the dishonest campaigns of anti death penalty legislators in NJ and NM, they succeed because the gov will sign a repeal, not because any of their arguments have any weight.

NJ repealed with 78% popular support. I believe 78% is the death penalty support in Ct, with the Petit murderers. Such citizen support is irrelvant to the antis.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Nov 4, 2010 9:32:28 AM

To be honest I believe/fear there will be a "comeback" of capital punishment and the number of executions will rise. Baze proved the 3-drug LI Protocol and even a "bazian test" of the 1-drug Protocol wouldn't have a different outcome.

As abolitionists we should focus on the death penalty itself, not on certain issues regarding the death penalty.

Posted by: Joachim | Nov 4, 2010 10:08:46 AM

peter --

Do you have any information that Kasich questions the DP? I don't, but I'd be interested in any you could provide.

I looked up his positions on crime issues. If there is anything that would be of comfort to your side, I didn't see it. Here it is:

Voted NO on funding for alternative sentencing instead of more prisons. (Jun 2000)

Voted YES on more prosecution and sentencing for juvenile crime. (Jun 1999)

Voted NO on maintaining right of habeas corpus in Death Penalty Appeals. (Mar 1996)

Voted YES on making federal death penalty appeals harder. (Feb 1995)

Voted NO on replacing death penalty with life imprisonment. (Apr 1994)

More prisons, more enforcement, effective death penalty. (Sep 1994)

Source: http://www.ontheissues.org/OH/John_Kasich.htm

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 4, 2010 10:16:35 AM

Joachim --

"As abolitionists we should focus on the death penalty itself, not on certain issues regarding the death penalty."

As a matter of intellectual honesty, I agree. But as a matter of tactics, it will never happen.

The problem is that the "death penalty itself" remains quite popular. It has been at roughly two-thirds support for at least ten years, through the "They're innocent!" campaign and the "It's too expensive" campaign.

To see why it retains its massive popularity, I refer you to the on-going disgusting case in Connecticut.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 4, 2010 10:26:49 AM

Dudley --

As long as the Petit case is being actively litigated, and therefore in the public eye, Connecticut will not repeal the DP. Here's why:

Connecticut's people want the DP imposed on the Petit killers by 75-18. Thus legislation that would nullify it forthwith is impossible. Left wing extremists' willingness to defy the public will has SOME limits (although admittedly not many).

On the other hand, legislation that would allow it now but forbid it in the future is so morally incoherent that it cannot be defended with a straight face. In addition, it is subject to an unanswerable question: How can we be assured that something as bad as the Petit case, or worse, won't happen in the future? Timmy McVeigh won't show up in Connecticut? Really? How do you know that?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 4, 2010 10:38:03 AM

Bill, you may be right. My source seems, on reflection, to have been a little ambiguously phrased. However, in debate he seems to have not been a million miles away from Strickland's approach, and maybe in the intervening 16 years since the recorded 1994 vote, Kasich has matured his attitude on this question. Anyone who claims to be "pro life" must have difficulty in believing the state has any justified moral authority to deliberately take the life of a healthy man or woman. My comments re many Republicans having a less committed belief today in the need for the death penalty are however fully justified. Maybe it's just pragmatism at work, and maybe much of the belief expresses itself deep in committees rather than in electioneering, but the change is there.

Posted by: peter | Nov 4, 2010 11:02:38 AM

I don't have a problem reconciling pro-death penalty and pro-life views. The unborn are innocent and innately helpless, the condemned are guilty of heinous crimes and have their defenders.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Nov 4, 2010 8:07:40 PM

here in Florida, all the candidates were talking about the economy the last couple of years and no one pressed Crist or Atty General McCollum on why they were not carrying out the death penalty. I don't think it ever came up at all during the race between Scott and Sink. We will see. When I met McCollum, I suggested changing the statute to have the Florida Supreme Court or the circuit court in the county handling the case to set the date upon request from the Atty General's office. He said that was interesting and would look into it. Never heard another word about it.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 4, 2010 10:48:38 PM


I don't know if you could go as far as to call Strickland "extra tough" on the death penalty. True, he let most of them be carried out, but the Kevin Keith case was a big mistake and I would watch him on this before he leaves office. His statement granting clemency left the door open to future action.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 4, 2010 10:57:21 PM

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Posted by: pandora jewellery | Nov 5, 2010 4:09:25 AM

Abolition of the death penalty results in the death penalty for many more victims of murderers in prison. These murderers have absolute legal immunity for all violent crimes after the first murder conviction. This license to kill is better than that of James Bond. They may start a home murder for hire business and do quite well, if they wish. There would be nothing the authorities could do, once the death penalty is stopped. The number of prison murders is far greater than the number of executions. Why does the lawyer always take the side of evil? Evil generates lawyer employment and must be protected.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 5, 2010 6:27:24 AM

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