Blog of Rights

Conservative Commentators Speak Out Against Death Penalty

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 3:25pm

Richard Viguerie, known as "the funding father of the conservative movement," coauthored an eloquent op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch with L. Brent Bozell III asserting that support for the death penalty is on the decline—and that their fellow conservatives should take note.

They write:

From our conservative perspective, there are other reasons we oppose the death penalty. It is an expensive government program with the power to kill people. Conservatives don't trust the government is always capable, competent, or fair with far lighter tasks.

When it comes to life and death, mistakes are made, or perhaps worse, bad decisions are made. States have wrongly convicted people based on false confessions and inaccurate eyewitness identification. In some of these cases, the real perpetrator was identified decades after the crime occurred. Since DNA evidence is not available in the majority of murder cases, other wrongful convictions based on similar types of evidence may never come to light.

Viguerie and Bozell also reasserted their opposition to the recent execution of Teresa Lewis, whom Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell denied clemency despite conclusions that she was borderline mentally retarded. Last year, Viguerie also called for a national moratorium on the death penalty.

An even more prominent voice has added his thoughts to the national debate over the death penalty. In a recent interview, now-retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens told NPR that the one vote he regrets in his more than 35 years on the court was his vote in favor of reinstituting the death penalty in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia:

"I thought at the time ... that if the universe of defendants eligible for the death penalty is sufficiently narrow so that you can be confident that the defendant really merits that severe punishment, that the death penalty was appropriate," he says. But, over the years, "the court constantly expanded the cases eligible for the death penalty, so that the underlying premise for my vote has disappeared, in a sense."

(My colleague Brian Stull wrote a comprehensive reflection on Justice Stevens' evolved view of the death penalty in June.)

As Viguerie and Bozell mention, support for the death penalty has declined in recent years. A recent Gallup poll showed a 4 percent decline in those supporting the death penalty from 2007 to 2009. Last year, 11 state legislatures considered bills that would end capital punishment. And a Death Penalty Information Center study (PDF) last year found police chiefs consider the death penalty the least effective deterrent to murder, and one of the most inefficient uses of taxpayer dollars to solve crimes.

October 10 (a.k.a.: 10/10/10) is the World Day to End the Death Penalty. When we consider the words of Vigurie, Bozell and Justice Stevens, and take into account the enormous expense of this broken system, there's only one conclusion: It's time to end the death penalty.

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