In yet another highly anticipated decision, the high court ruled against three Oklahoma prisoners claiming a controversial lethal-injection drug violated the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, said the prisoners failed to prove taking the drug could cause severe pain.
The decision not only dealt a huge blow to anti-death penalty activists, it completely ignored a wave currently cresting itself across the US: That capital punishment shouldn’t have a place in our justice system at all.
To start, support for the death penalty in general polls has been slipping for nearly the last two decades, according to the Pew Research Center. And currently, the number of Americans who favour it, only a small majority at 56%, has hit a 40-year low. Young people ages 18-29 support it by an even slimmer, 8-point margin.
Even within the system, application has drastically declined. In 2014, death sentences also reached a 40-year low, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
And some who do participate in delivering capital punishments suffer from hefty regret. One prosecutor, who helped nail down a murder conviction and death sentence for Glenn Ford, a Louisiana man exonerated 30 years later, wrote an op-ed earlier this year apologizing for his transgression and coming out against the death penalty.
Ford’s powerful words came from an experience working in a jurisdiction — Caddo Parish, Louisiana — that sentences more people to death per capita than anywhere else in the US.
“The clear reality is that the death penalty is an anathema to any society that purports to call itself civilized,” he wrote. “It is an abomination that continues to scar the fibres of this society and it will continue to do so until this barbaric penalty is outlawed. Until then, we will live in a land that condones state assisted revenge and that is not justice in any form or fashion.”
The drop in capital sentences has also only occurred in the states that still allow the death penalty. Nineteen have abolished the practice completely, including Nebraska, the first red-state to do so since 1973.
The legislation — bipartisan although led by a crew of conservatives — proved that anti-death penalty sentiments now transcend party lines. On top of that, the Nebraska Senate overrode the governor’s veto to repeal the death penalty.
Many of those who oppose the death penalty, such as dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer, cite its arbitrary application and unrealiability. Breyer, along with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, revealed in their dissents of the Supreme Court’s decision that they believe the death penalty is unconstitutional.
On the other hand, exonerations are also on the rise.
In typical fashion, Justice Antonin Scalia made explosive comments that his liberal benchmates (like Breyer) don’t understand what the “majority of Americans” want — namely, a thumbs up on capital punishment from the high court.
“Let the People decide how much incremental deterrence is appropriate,” he said.
Is he sure about that?