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September 7, 2011

Will the death penalty come up in tonight's big GOP presidential candidate debate?

This new piece at Politico, headlined "Debate presents crucial GOP test," provides a viewer's guide to tonight's big GOP presidential candidate debate. Here is how the piece sets up a list of issues to watch:

For the 2012 Republican hopefuls, Wednesday night is the first Fall Classic.  Eight candidates are slated to take the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., for the POLITICO/NBC News debate — the first face-off as the campaign kicks into high gear.

It’s also the first debate that will include Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the new front-runner who has shaken up the slow-forming presidential contest and shifted the landscape for Mitt Romney, who’d been sitting atop the field for months.

As regular readers know, Gov. Perry's enterence into the Prez race has prompted the political media and some others to start giving more attention to death penalty issues.  For yet another example, here is a notable new piece at The Atlantic under these headings: "Texas Toast: Rick Perry's Death Penalty Calendar; The governor has the authority to stay three pending executions so that the courts can be sure of the prisoners' guilt.  But will he?"

I suspect that few (if any) of Perry's rivals think they can score major points by attacking his death penalty record, but I also suspect that media persons in charge of developing questions for tonight's GOP debate may not be able to resist bringing up the topic in some way.  And, as highlighted by this recently-posted piece by Paul Giannelli available via SSRN, a shrewd way to raise the issue might be through questions about Perry's commitment to transparency in government and about his faith in (junk?) science.  This piece is titled "The Execution of Cameron Todd Willingham: Junk Science, an Innocent Man, and the Politics of Death," and here is its abstract:

Cameron Todd Willingham was tried and executed for the arson deaths of his three little girls. The expert testimony offered against him to establish arson was junk science. The case has since become infamous, the subject of an award-winning New Yorker article, numerous newspaper accounts, and several television shows. It also became enmeshed in the death penalty debate and the reelection of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who refused to grant a stay of execution after a noted arson expert submitted a report debunking the “science” offered at Willingham’s trial.  The governor has since attempted to derail an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission into the arson evidence presented at Willingham’s trial.

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September 7, 2011 at 11:50 AM | Permalink


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It dern well better come up!. And when it do, we'll see for certain who indeedy-doo gets targeted - my man Rick or all his wussy opponents!!


Posted by: Al Ammo | Sep 7, 2011 2:39:36 PM

I don't think that it will be that much brought out about the death penalty. It's not a red meat line item for most conservatives in these economic times. The only way it would be brought out is if a liberal moderator brought the subject up.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Sep 7, 2011 4:13:32 PM

We ain't had a good "rat-a-tat" debate since Jesse James Jackson in '84!!

Posted by: Al Ammo | Sep 7, 2011 4:46:10 PM

Them mod-libs better watch out! We know red meat down here!! Especially the fresh, right-off-the-stake stuff!! (I do favor harvesting the organs first, though - especially in the fall.)

Posted by: Al Ammo | Sep 7, 2011 5:09:22 PM

watch out for what you ask for.

If the issue of the death penalty comes up, depending on the answer, it could provide an opportunity for persons subject to being executed between now and the election to seek a stay of execution on the grounds that they cannot receive an impartial determination of their petition for clemency. I assume everyone on this blog would feel uncomfortable with a governor's decision on clemency being affected by personal political considerations of whether the decision would cost votes in a presidential election or gain votes in a presidential election. If anyone is not bothered by that prospect, then they need to examine their commitment to the Rule of Law.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Sep 7, 2011 5:34:14 PM


Given that clemency is not a right any such petition would be strictly pretense. Political considerations are well within the competency of any clemency authority.

While it would bother me from a political standpoint if a governor were to use a coin flip to determine their pardoning decisions it would not bother me from a rights perspective of the inmate. The inmate does not have a right to any sort of impartiality from the executive, it is strictly a matter of grace. Even if the governor were to exercise the authority in a completely arbitrary manner that favored coreligionists or members of one race over another or people whose names start with 'B' while disfavoring those whose names start with 'S' it would not bother me from a rights perspective of the inmate, only a political standpoint.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 7, 2011 10:33:51 PM

bruce --

I doubt a stay would be needed. If Perry felt it necessary to avoid a conflict of interest, he could just disqualify himself from clemency decisions and pass them to the Lt. Governor.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 7, 2011 10:56:28 PM


"The governor has since attempted to derail an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission into the arson evidence presented at Willingham’s trial."

The above is scary.
¿ Is he a "Tricky Rick" ?

Posted by: Jim Brady | Sep 8, 2011 8:13:39 AM

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