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Was the California moratorium on executions undemocratic? Maybe it doesn’t matter.


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Was the California moratorium on executions undemocratic? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

  • ‘I’m not going anywhere until they stop killing people

  • Justice in America Episode 19: What Justice Could Look Like

  • Manafort’s case reveals America’s deep, disturbing attraction to harsh punishment, even on the left

  • A bill to end suspension of drivers licenses for unpaid fines advances in Montana legislature

  • Florida officer used police database to pursue women, especially those who don’t speak English

In the Spotlight

Was the California moratorium on executions undemocratic? Maybe it doesn’t matter. 

Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed an indefinite moratorium on the death penalty, arguing that the racial disparities, cost, and false convictions make the punishment immoral. He issued an executive order that gives a reprieve from execution—though no chance for release—to the 737 people on California’s death row, who represent about one-quarter of the national death row population. The order also annuls California’s lethal injection protocol and closes the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison. “I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Newsom wrote in prepared remarks. [Scott Wilson and Mark Berman / Washington Post]  “I know people think eye for eye, but if you rape, we don’t rape,” he said. “And I think if someone kills, we don’t kill. We’re better than that.” [Tim Arango / New York Times]

The move has been seen as mostly symbolic, because legal challenges have stalled executions in California. But death penalty opponents hope that the governor’s action will add momentum to efforts to end executions in other states. [Tim Arango / New York Times] Newsom cited a Los Angeles Times editorial that reported that 164 falsely convicted people across the country have been freed from death row since 1973. He also pointed to a Santa Clara University Law Review study that found that people convicted of killing white people were more likely to be sentenced to death than people convicted of killing Black or Latinx people. [Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times] The Intercept reported that, since California reauthorized the death penalty in 1978, 79 people have died awaiting execution, and 26 have killed themselves.

Criticism of the moratorium stresses that it seems to run counter to the expressed will of California voters, who over the last six years have rejected two ballot measures to repeal the death penalty and instead favored speeding it up. Last month, the association representing deputy district attorneys in Los Angeles County accused elected officials of foot-dragging on executions, saying they “smugly substitute their own values over the ratified votes of the majority.” Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said Newsom was “following in the footsteps of other governors who abused this power because they were frustrated by a law that they just personally disagreed with.”

The Daily Appeal asked Cassy Stubbs, the director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, if she believes the action was undemocratic. “I think the electorate in California has very narrowly just missed repealing the death penalty,” she said. “We live in a system of government that has roles for the judiciary, legislature, and executive, and I think it’s wholly appropriate, especially in a system like California, where we’ve seen so many problems— racial problems, innocence problems— that a governor will step in and say enough is enough.” Stubbs added that governors in other states have granted clemency to large numbers of people on death row for decades.

“By and large, the death penalty is not a popularity question, just like how questions about whether something is constitutional are not decided by popular vote,” Stubbs continued. “We have seen the public moving against the death penalty but at the end of the day the role of the executive and the courts is to make sure the system is safe and fair and nondiscriminatory, and it’s been failing on all those keystone markers.”

The Daily Appeal asked Professor Ekow Yankah of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law whether death penalty policy should be up to the populace. “The racial injustice in the death penalty makes it a poor candidate for democratic tools, at least without serious fixes,” he wrote in an email. “The very justification of democracy is that we are all intertwined in a joint civic project, and our voice is both our method of participating and a way of binding us. But where something as important as who the state kills is so riddled with racism, it undermines, at least for large portions of the demos, the justificatory claim.”

After a 40-year experiment, it’s clear that we cannot impose the death penalty fairly, says Stubbs. “We can’t shake the problems of racial bias and bad lawyering,” and it doesn’t achieve its goals. Even Donald Heller, who wrote the 1978 ballot initiative that created California’s current death penalty law, was thrilled to see it halted. Heller has said that he was dismayed at the way the law was applied, calling it “a colossal failure.” When he heard about Newsom’s moratorium, he said, “I applaud what he’s doing. It shows courage and a belief that capital punishment should eventually be abolished.” [Liliana Segura and Jordan Smith / The Intercept]

“Five billion dollars could have bought a lot of justice for murder victims that didn’t have their murders investigated,” Newsom said yesterday, referring to the money spent on the death penalty. “Five billion dollars could have bought a lot of justice to people that had inadequate representation. … Five billion dollars could have bought a lot of justice in training to right the wrongs of a criminal justice system that is skewed against black and brown people.” [Liliana Segura and Jordan Smith / The Intercept]

Stories From The Appeal

 

Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images

‘I’m Not Going Anywhere Until They Stop Killing People.’ In 2009, Anaheim, California, police shot and killed Theresa Smith’s son. A new California law promises police transparency, but Smith’s quest for answers is costly. [Aaron Morrison]

Justice in America Episode 19: What Justice Could Look Like. Josie and Clint talk to Sonya Shah, an associate professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, about restorative justice. [Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith]

Stories From Around the Country

Manafort’s case reveals ‘America’s deep, disturbing attraction to harsh punishment,’ even on the left: When Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, many claimed he got off easy. “My destitute black and Latinx clients in New York City regularly faced much longer sentences than Manafort, sometimes for much less wrongdoing,” writes Mugambi Jouet, who is now an academic. “Nevertheless, I don’t believe Manafort should be treated as mercilessly as my clients were.” No one should, Jouet argues. In “modern America, even liberals seem to have become inured to ruthless punishments. Their criticism of mass incarceration is largely limited to its racism, counter-productivity, and financial cost” and often neglects moral grounds. Jouet advocates the universal human rights approach in Europe, which has disproportionately benefited the poor and minorities, and urges “categorical opposition to harsh punishments,” including for violent offenses. “While Manafort is not the poster child for mass incarceration, his case reveals America’s deep, disturbing attraction to harsh punishment—even among some on the left, who seem to relish the idea that he might die in prison. … If the left truly believes that mass incarceration is not only unfair but immoral, it cannot make exceptions for wrongdoers it finds unsympathetic.” [Mugambi Jouet / The New Republic]

Florida officer used police database to pursue women, especially those who don’t speak English: Last summer, Police Sgt. Leonel Marines briefly encountered a young woman in a parking lot, then followed her home and asked her parents if he could speak to her. They refused, and reported the incident. As Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan told reporters, this information  alerted police that Marines was allegedly using a sensitive database as his personal dating service. Marines, who had a 12-year career at the police department, used social media, telephone calls, and home visits. “He was very persistent and successful at times in his efforts to do so,” Bevan said. He was taken off patrol after the initial complaint, and he later resigned. Investigators have found at least 150 women whom Marines allegedly contacted inappropriately, with a focus on Hispanic women who did not speak English. They also determined he had sex with some of the women while on duty. [Kyle Swenson / Washington Post]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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