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October 10, 2015

Should GOP Prez candidates be questioned on why being pro-life and anti-government doesn't lead to death penalty opposition?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this The Week commentary authored by Bonnie Kristin and headlined "The rise of the anti-death penalty conservative." Here are excerpts:

[P]rotesting abortion is not all the consistent pro-life ethic entails.  As typically expressed, most often in Catholic circles, consistent defense of human life in all its forms also requires opposition to the death penalty and assisted suicide (as well as any involuntary form of euthanasia).

"Life is something that comes from God and shouldn't be taken away by man," explains Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest.  Those with a consistent pro-life ethic "are concerned about a person from womb to tomb."  For all Christians, consistent pro-lifers argue, "Something is definitely wrong when we claim to follow a man who halted an execution (John 8:1–11) and then was unjustly executed by the state, but still prefer justice over mercy."...

[T]here are some conservatives for whom capital punishment is already a pressing issue. "For those of us who are pro-life and maintain the far-from-radical notion that our government shouldn't kill innocent Americans, the death penalty fails to live up to our standards," argues Marc Hyden of Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty (CCATDP), a nonprofit that exists to question "a system marked by inefficiency, inequity, and inaccuracy."

And marked by these difficulties it most certainly is.  As CCATDP enumerates, the problems and perils of capital punishment in modern America are many.  There's the risk — as in the Glossip case and too many others, like Marlon Howell or Cameron Todd Willingham — of accidentally killing an innocent person.   More than 150 people sentenced to die in America have been exonerated in the last four decades, some after spending 30 years or more on death row.

Beyond that, the death penalty is exorbitantly expensive for taxpayers — as much as 10 times more expensive than a life sentence by some calculations.  The lengthy process drags out the grief of murder victims' families, endlessly resuscitating it with a new appeal or evidence.  And there's no evidence that the threat of death deters crime.  Furthermore, capital punishment is implemented in a systemically unfair manner: Factors like where you live, your race and the race of your alleged victim, and even whether your judge is elected or appointed can all influence whether you're sentenced to prison or death.

With inequities like these, Hyden argues, there's nothing "limited or wise about giving an error-prone government the power to kill its citizens, especially when many of us don't trust the state to even deliver mail."

In spite of the evidence that — as conservatives tend to agree in other policy arenas — the government is neither competent nor trustworthy, polling suggests that CCATDP is still in the minority on the right: Only 11 percent of Americans oppose both abortion and the death penalty. There is "no significant correlation between attitudes about the legality of abortion and views on capital punishment," according to Robert P. Jones of OnFaith, and if we zoom in on Tea Partiers, support for a consistent pro-life ethic drops to just 7 percent.

So in 2016, Republican debate moderators looking for a tough but thoughtful question to add to their list should consider question grilling presidential contenders on the death penalty.  Thanks to the Planned Parenthood footage — not to mention the cross-partisan popularity of the broader cause of criminal justice reform, as well as the consistently pro-life Pope Francis — the timing is good.  And thanks to the clear discrepancies between opposition to big government handing out a license to kill, on the one hand, and support for the death penalty on the other, the chance to catch candidates in hypocrisy is pretty good, too.

Some prior related posts:

October 10, 2015 at 12:48 PM | Permalink


Since my last comment about the possibility of "mistakes" is now on a post way down the list, I would like to respond to the various responses my comment engendered to explain how complex and nuanced the notion of "mistake" is.

It seems like most commenters think "mistake" means only one thing. The wrong person was convicted.

For those of us who try death penalty cases, it is quite clear that there are many areas for potential mistakes to be made. I'll give one specific example.

Fifteen years ago, I represented a defendant in a murder case and the only aggravating factor that could expose him to a death sentence was a prior felony conviction. My client said he had never been convicted of a felony. I showed him the documents from the clerk's office in Connecticut saying he had been convicted of a felony.

He said, no, I've never been convicted of a felony.
We found out through investigation that he was right. In fact, the prosecutor dismissed the felony charge and the defendant actually pleaded to a misdemeanor. The courtroom clerk mistakenly typed in "felony" instead of misdemeanor, when she or he was entering the determination of the case into the computer.

There are a multitude of opportunities for mistakes to be made. And for a person who is dead, it makes no difference whether the mistake was the wrong person was convicted or that the clerk entered the wrong description of a prior conviction on a computer.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Oct 10, 2015 4:38:46 PM

The question is a sound one though there are the usual obvious answers.

People who are "anti-government" are rarely consistently so. If you are running for POTUS on the Republican line, you are for government in a range of ways. So, it's a judgment call. Same applies to cost (see also military spending). Finally, "pro-life" will be a question of how, including a reference to the number of abortions that occur vs. the limited number of executions. The felt need for executions to show respect for life etc. has been covered too. Ted Cruz has already voiced something along those lines.

But, a bit of nuance along with the usual sound bite sloganeering is still appreciated.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 11, 2015 1:01:19 PM

Bruce. "Mistake" should be reserved for the innocent. Once again, a mistake should result in an air crash style investigation, listing the 12 or more factors that came together in a space and time to cause it. Then each factor should be addressed by changes in the system to prevent them. This approach has squeezed the error rate in flying to close to zero. It is no more a valid argument to end the death penalty, than to end transportation, including walking. There are a thousand pedestrian deaths a year, so end walking.

What you are talking about is not a mistake. It is negligence. Arithmetic errors. Wrong paper paper work, right name, wrong birth date. Those are carelessness and negligence. The prisoner should be able to sue the court for its negligence, and to collect money damages to deter. Bill defended these self dealt immunities. However, they are bad for the legal system because they prevent improvement. And, legal immunity is full justification for violence against the court in formal logic, a system more absolute than physical laws. Prof. Berman likely knows a lot of formal logic and should address this result. Immunity justifies violence.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 11, 2015 2:06:32 PM

Bruce. Speaking of arithmetic errors. I have never ever gotten the correct answer in exercises testing the calculation of a mandatory sentence. I would be curious to know the score Prof. Berman achieves in tests of mandatory sentencing calculations, his being an expert in sentencing law. If his scores are not 100%, that means the formulas are too complex and violate Fifth Amendment Due Process. No defense attorney has ever made that point in an appeal. I am giving you an appellate defense concept and want fairness credit.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 11, 2015 2:12:38 PM

This screed is utter silliness:

1) First of all, the death penalty cost studies don't take into consideration deterrence, the fact that it induces guilty pleas that reflect the crime committed, that it reduces end of life medical costs etc. Second, liberals, through their overrepresentation in the judiciary., media and legal establishment have imposed many of these costs. To cave because of costs is fundamentally anti-democratic, and the money that we spend "getting to death" is a vindication of democracy.

2) The idea that being anti-abortion is fundamentally inconsistent with being pro-capital punishment is just silly. One can be in favor of zealously protecting innocent life but in favor of harshly punishing those who take it. Additionally, the moral courage to get to death affirms the idea that murder victims' lives are precious.

3) "Furthermore, capital punishment is implemented in a systemically unfair manner: Factors like where you live, your race and the race of your alleged victim, and even whether your judge is elected or appointed can all influence whether you're sentenced to prison or death."

This is just stupid. Since we have local control of prosecution, locally chosen juries etc., there is going to be geographical variation. As for race, that's more silliness. The idea that there is widespread race of the murderer discrimination has been largely discredited, and the race of the victim issue is never teased out from the geographical issue. For "conservatives" to be swallowing whole propaganda from the left calls into question how "conservative" these concern trolls really are.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 11, 2015 5:47:25 PM

Opposition to chopping up a third trimester, viable, fat looking baby with scissors with no due process, despite the Fifth Amendment Due process protection of that viable child who has yet to commit a crime, is morally equivalent to executing a guy who used a little girl like a fuck doll for a week, after taking her from her bed, and then was too cowardly to dispatch her himself, and buried her alive in a garbage bag. Those two executions are morally equivalent. Discuss.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 11, 2015 6:13:11 PM

Upon birth, do babies complain about discomfort and changes in temperature, being squeezed, pinched, yanked, and otherwise inconvenienced? You be they do, and at the top of their lungs. So if I insert scissors into the uterus, and start chopping away for 15 interminable minutes, do you think the baby feels anything? You bet.

Not a word about the Eighth Amendment in late term abortion from the filthy, dirty, vile feminist, morally disgusting lawyer, a filthy reptile that should be eradicated by the Orkin Man to avoid dirtying one's hands.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 11, 2015 6:18:30 PM

The sentence comprising the title to the article here is not coherent.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Oct 11, 2015 10:42:42 PM

Bruce. Your client actually committed a felony, but because of a fictitious plea bargain, he was adjudicated as committing a misdemeanor. He then committed murder, thanks to being streeted earlier by this plea bargain. And you find it gratifying that your discovered a paper work mistake and prevented his getting the death penalty. Is that what you are trying to say?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 12, 2015 2:45:55 AM

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