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November 4, 2008

Any speculations on what this Election Day could mean for the death penalty?

There are a number of state initiatives concerning sentencing and drug policy reforms that might provide a sense of some voters' current views on drug crime and punishment.  But I cannot recall a single election story, either at the federal or state level, in which the death penalty has been a consequential issue.  (This marks a significant contrast to 2006, when a death penalty ballot issue in Wisconsin and a heated race for Governor in Virginia partially revealed the political salience of, and current attitudes on, the modern death penalty.)  But even though the capital punishment has been a very quiet issue this election cycle, election results at both the national and state level will surely impact the future of the death penalty in the United States. 

At the national level, if Senator Obama wins the presidency and the Democrats make significant gains in the House and Senate, I would expect certain members of Congress (e.g., Senators Feingold and Leahy) to push for some anti-death-penalty legislation in 2009.  In addition, I suspect an Obama administration is likely to appoint federal judges more inclined to rigorously question state capital convictions (although a heck of a lot of federal judges already do that).  I do not expect that we will see the abolition of capital punishment anytime soon, but the expected national political outcomes should further contribute to the death penalty's slow death.

At the state level, the future of the death penalty may be influenced by economics even more than by politics.  During tough times, many states may be unwilling and perhaps even unable to spend a lot of resources pursuing capital convictions and death sentences.  Even when done "on the cheap" with inadequate funding of defense representation and court systems, operating and defending an active and robust system of capital punishment is a very costly enterprise for state official.  Outside of Texas and perhaps one or two other states, I doubt many state officials will be eager to pay regularly the high price of capital cases.  And, of course, the broader political environment will shape these funding priorities: a citizenry clamoring for more public works projects (and not clamoring for more executions) makes it much easier for politicians to direct monies toward different kinds of "capital" expenditures.

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November 4, 2008 at 06:55 AM | Permalink


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Check out whitehouse2.org, it's where citizens are coming together to set the priorities for the President's first 100 days in office.

"Abolish the death penalty" is currently #81


Anyone can set their own priorities, and the site adds them all up and puts them on the homepage. Tomorrow is when the real work starts! Voting is just the beginning, we have a lot of work to do to fix this country.

Posted by: Jim Gilliam | Nov 4, 2008 12:59:40 PM

The death penalty will either die a slow, agonizing, culturally demeaning, expensive, pointlessly dragged out death, (and needlessly kept on life-support by the likes of KentScheidegger), or it will be knocked out of the part with one quick Scotus 5th-vote swing!

Posted by: | Nov 4, 2008 5:30:30 PM

I guess only time will tell...

Posted by: Chris | Nov 4, 2008 11:23:11 PM

I hope that if the DP is actually going to be phased out that it will take the slow road. I can easily see a SCOTUS ruling on the issue creating so much blowback that an amendment restoring it for the incompitent, minors and non-murderers would pass.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 5, 2008 5:55:44 PM

This is a good time to abolish the DP under the argument of saving the economy. Hell, California alone might see the light of day with this policy. And they wonder why the states is bankrupt.


Posted by: a'e | Nov 10, 2008 4:11:11 PM

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