DOA Justice—Death Penalty

Michael King—sentenced to death.

A few issues slice through “party lines.” The death penalty is one of these.

It doesn’t matter whether politicians profess a liberal or a conservative philosophy, they often support the death penalty, either because their constituents do or because the Constitution permits it. Yet when it comes to other issues involving life and death these politicians manage to have it both ways: most politicians can figure out how to argue for the death penalty but oppose abortion or vice versa.

When confronted with this inconsistency they usually retreat behind a misquote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Emerson—of all philosophers—would recoil. He knew that consistency in certain things is integrity, not foolishness or evidence of small intellect. What Emerson really said was: “A foolish consistency is he hobgoblin of little minds. . . .”

Not an Expression of Community Outrage

Some politicians have supported the death penalty as an issue of society’s right to express moral outrage at certain crimes. This is clearly no justification for a state to execute its citizens. It is an expression of the rule of men, not of law. The proper response to crime is not emotionalism but the application of justice.

Community outrage was once used as the justification for lynching black men accused of raping white women. Community outrage was once used as the justification for burning insane women at the stake.

Not a Constitutional Issue

Some politicians have supported the death penalty because it is not expressly forbidden by the U. S. Constitution. But the Constitution once permitted slavery and did not permit women to vote. We amended the Constitution.

An Issue of Tyranny

In the 21st century, the death penalty represents the worst vestige of ancient state tyranny over individuals.

A government that has the right to determine who among its citizens deserve to die has the right to do whatever it wants to the whole citizenry.

You may think that murder is the only crime that results in the death penalty in the U. S. But several federal crimes other than murder are subject to the death penalty:

  • treason,
  • espionage,
  • kidnapping related to bank robbery,
  • and certain drug-smuggling-related crimes.

It’s even possible to be sentenced to death for causing the death of a fetus in the commission of a separate crime. And there’s nothing in the Constitution to prohibit Congress from expanding the list of capital crimes even further.

Take a look at the definition of “treason” at LectLaw:

The Constitution of the United States, Art. III, defines treason against the United States to consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid or  comfort. This offence is punished with death. By the same article of the Constitution, no person shall be convicted of treason, unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Who defines “enemies” of this country? The government does.

Let’s Change This

I’ve decided there is a small thing I can do to further the cause of abolishing the death penalty: I can seek out politicians who wish to abolish it and help them get the word out in the coming 2010 elections. I can also help expose the financial costs of the death penalty in states such as Illinois and the toll on the idea of justice the death penalty takes.

So, I’m starting a blog category for politicians of all parties who wish to abolish the death penalty in their states: “Politicians against Death”:

  • The first such politician I wish to acknowledge is an IL Republican running for Governor: Dan Proft.

His stand against the death penalty came to my attention after I learned that two other Republican candidates (Jim Ryan and Bob Schillerstrom) were strong supporters of the death penalty.

Both Ryan and Schillerstrom are former state’s attorneys from DuPage County and were involved in one of the most notorious, egregious miscarriages of justice of all time: the false prosecution of Rolando Cruz, Alex Hernandez, and Stephen Buckley for the murder of little Jeanine Nicacico in the early 1980s. Please read more about this injustice in Scott Turow’s discussion of his book: Ultimate Punishment.

I think I’ll also add a category for “Politicians of Death” and begin with Ryan and Schillerstrom.

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