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January 16, 2009

Gov pledges to do "everything" to abolish capital punishment in Maryland

As detailed through articles today in the Washington Post and in the Baltimore Sun, Maryland's governor has decided to really commit to getting the death penalty abolished in his state.  Here is the start of the Sun article:

Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday that he will do "everything in my power" to abolish the death penalty in Maryland this year and for the first time raised the possibility of allowing voters to decide the divisive issue through a constitutional amendment if legislative repeal efforts fail again.

"It's an issue with grave moral implications, certainly equal to the slots legislation," O'Malley said, referring to the casino gambling referendum that was approved by voters last year. "Maybe that's the way to go."

The governor, a Democrat, said he intends to sponsor a bill to repeal capital punishment, which would put more of his political capital behind the issue.  A longtime death penalty opponent, the governor has testified in favor of repeal legislation, but he has never offered his own initiative.  His effort comes a month after a gubernatorial commission voted to recommend abolishing capital punishment and issued a report outlining what it saw as fatal flaws in the application of the death penalty.

Some lawmakers and death penalty opponents said the administration's sponsorship could be enough to move a bill out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where identical efforts have failed the past two years.  Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat who has sponsored those bills, said she was pleased when the governor told her Wednesday that repeal of the death penalty would be part of his administration's legislative package.

I wonder if Governor O'Malley really means he will do "everything" in his power to eliminate the death penalty in Maryland.  Though I am not sure about the full scope of executive powers in Maryland, I assume Governor O'Malley could do a lot more than just put forward a legislative repeal proposal. 

He could, I assume, seek to commute the death sentences of those right now on death row and also pledge to commute any future death sentences.  He could, I assume, issue a variety of executive orders that would formally or functionally make it harder for Maryland's prosecutors to pursue capital cases.  He could, I assume, propose a budget providing lots of funding for lawyers who represent murder defendants.  In other words, because Governors have lots of powers beyond just proposing legislation, it will be interesting to see if Governor O'Malley is really prepared to go to the mat on this issue.

January 16, 2009 at 12:44 PM | Permalink


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Doug, I think your comments are profoundly unfair to O'Malley. Certainly, it's possible to take the view (similar to Gov. Kaine) that he wants the death penalty to go away, but that there are certain steps he is unwilling to take, e.g., commute death sentences. You make the mistake of assuming that the test of opposition to the death penalty is that the opponent will do whatever it takes to thwart it.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 16, 2009 1:05:36 PM

federalist, I think your comments are unfair to Doug. O'Malley didn't say he was "opposed" to the DP, and Doug didn't offer those steps as required for any true opponent. According to the article, O'Malley said he would do "everything in [his] power" to abolish it.

Posted by: Texas Lawyer | Jan 16, 2009 2:03:02 PM

To "abolish" it, which means get it repealed, not thwart it while it's still on the books. O'Malley is clearly talking about getting rid of the death penalty through democracy. And Doug's comment basically says that if O'Malley doesn't do all that other stuff, he's not really committed to the issue.

Posted by: | Jan 16, 2009 3:30:46 PM

3:30:46 PM: Why is "getting rid of the death penalty through democracy" something that only the legislature can do? Is the governor of Maryland not democratically elected? Is his pardon power not democratic? Or perhaps aren't both legislation and pardons (small "r") republican not (small "d") democratic acts?

Juries are perhaps the most democratic of institutions. If you're so concerned with democracy, perhaps you should favor a rule which allows all individuals to serve on juries in death cases -- not just those who support capital punishment. Seems like a pretty rigged idea of democracy to me.

I'm sick of the false meme that those in favor of capital punishment have democracy on their side. As opposed to abolitionists who have to rely on "undemocratic" liberal judges. Seems like death penalty supporters see democracy where they want to see it and support democracy when it suits them.

Posted by: dm | Jan 16, 2009 10:16:12 PM

Give me a break, dm. I am simply suggesting what may be on the mind of O'Malley.

And yes, dm, we have democracy on our side. The Constitution clearly contemplates the death penalty; the people are in favor of it and Congress has even passed a law designed to speed it up. Unfortunately, liberal judges act lawlessly to thwart it.

Posted by: | Jan 16, 2009 10:43:02 PM

As a Maryland resident and as one opposed to the death penalty, I am inclined to fully embrace the governor's efforts, but I hesitate. His alternative is LWOP (life without parole). We can see how that alternative is over used, when available. Legislation that trumpets that alternative will probably now pass, but without my support.

Posted by: Michael Israel | Jan 17, 2009 10:35:22 AM

10:43:02 PM:

The Constitutional also clearly contemplates due process -- something violated in almost every death penalty trial transcript I've ever read. What it doesn't contemplate is "harmless error" analysis, found nowhere in the Constitution. Damn conservative activist judges importing their own personal views in favor of the death penalty into the Constitution.

The Constitution also clearly contemplates a jury of one's peers. It does not, on the other hand, contemplate systematically removing jurors who oppose the death penalty. What Article of the Constitution is that in?
As for evidence that "the people favor" the death penalty. If you allowed those people -- all of those people -- to be eligible to serve on juries, the death penalty would all but disappear entirely. Indeed, it is beginning to disappear jury by jury even with the anti-democratic rule that eliminates abolitionists from juries.

Yes. Gimme a break. Time for us abolitionists to take back the sloppy self-serving dialogue of conservatives that portrays us as enemies of the Constitution rather than supporters of it and enemies of democracy rather than supporters of it.

Posted by: dm | Jan 17, 2009 10:49:58 AM

dm wrote: "Indeed, it is beginning to disappear jury by jury even with the anti-democratic rule that eliminates abolitionists from juries."

It eliminates more than abolitionists. It eliminates anybody who believes the defendant's humanity would preclude them from personally sentencing a person to death, regardless of his view of the death penalty in the abstract. In other words, one needn't be an abolitionist to be refused his right to serve on a jury. This eliminates a number nearing half of the population from serving, disproportionately impacting African-Americans, women, and religious persons. But for this exclusion of conscientious persons, urban counties (from whence most death sentences come) would not be able to secure death sentences. Democracy in action!

Posted by: DK | Jan 17, 2009 11:10:22 AM

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