The only legal organization that provided any colorable, intellectual support of the death penalty has abandoned its own cause, because the capital punishment system in the United States is so thoroughly broken that it is beyond salvaging.
The institute’s recent decision to abandon the field was a compromise. Some members had asked the institute to take a stand against the death penalty as such. That effort failed.
Instead, the institute voted in October to disavow the structure it had created “in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”
That last sentence contains some pretty dense lawyer talk, but it can be untangled. What the institute was saying is that the capital justice system in the United States is irretrievably broken.
A study commissioned by the institute said that decades of experience have proved that the system cannot reconcile the twin goals of individualized decisions about who should be executed and systemic fairness. It added that capital punishment is plagued by racial disparities; is enormously expensive even as many defense lawyers are underpaid and some are incompetent; risks executing innocent people; and is undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections.
When the one group who tried to make an intellectual argument for the dealth penalty admits defeat, we are headed in the right direction. Of course, a lot of death penalty supporters don’t premise their arguments on anything rational or analytical, and don’t care to; the United States is very culturally invested in the death penalty, and we see it as a cornerstone of a retributive criminal justice system. I sadly don’t see it going away any time soon, even if we are one of the only countries in the world that still kills convicted criminals. But at least now we’ve removed any veneer of intellectualism from the pro-death-penalty side.
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