Fitting perfectly in these unprecedented times, the Supreme Court made a controversial ruling to allow the federal death penalty to commence for the first time in more than 17 years, rejecting inmates’ objections.
On Tuesday, the justices ruled 5-4, ending a halt put on federal executions by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The ruling overturned a disputed decision by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who argued that the Death Row inmates had not yet exhausted their chances to fight the government’s federal execution methods. Prisoners particularly reject the lethal injection method adopted by the DOJ last year, calling it cruel and unusual punishment, citing 8th Amendment rights.
After a near-all night battle on the issue, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch—decided executions could proceed using sedative pentobarbital sodium, which causes death by respiratory arrest.
The liberal side of the court dissented in a statement where Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued, “This sets a dangerous precedent…because of the Court’s rush to dispose of this litigation in an emergency posture, there will be no meaningful judicial review of the grave, fact-heavy challenges respondents bring to the way in which the Government plans to execute them.”
The first prisoner was executed just hours after the ruling was made. Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist convicted of gruesomely killing a family of three in the 90s, was promptly put to death in Indiana.
According to a reporter from the Indianapolis Star, Lee’s last words were, “You’re killing an innocent man.”
— Tim Evans (@starwatchtim) July 14, 2020
Capital punishment is interestingly not a partisan issue, per say, although the justices ruled on a hard split between conservatives and liberals.
A Gallup poll taken in 2019 suggests that about 56% of the U.S. population supports capital punishment, which is a slight 1% increase from just two years prior—marking a 45-year low in support for the death penalty.
If 56% accurately depicts the U.S. population, that means many conservatives are conflicted on the issue. It comes down to this one question: how are we to determine when life ends?
Different conservative groups will have varying answers to this question. Staying ideologically consistent, pro-life conservatives will oppose the death penalty. Some Christians will also oppose it on grounds that God decides when life can be ended. They might argue that we cannot act as arbiters of which life gets to live – otherwise we contradict ourselves if we then also say that abortion is wrong.
However, other Christians will justify the death penalty, especially for those who hurt children – like executed inmate Daniel Lewis Lee. They might cite the passage in the Bible that says any person who causes a child to stumble would be better off tying a stone around their neck and drowning themselves in the sea. Of course, that is up for interpretation, but it’s pretty clear that it refers to hurting children.
Fiscal conservatives may use a non-religious, economic argument to support the death penalty. They might say that if these serial murderers have no use for society, why should taxpayers be forced to pay for their incarceration? They provide zero value to society, so we should not be forced to pay for their irreparable lives.
Then, there is the most compelling question to ask oneself regarding the death penalty.
What if the person was wrongly convicted?
Innocent people have been sentenced, including death row inmates. It could happen again.
As a conservative, it is difficult to take a stand either way on capital punishment as there are several convincing arguments to be made both for and against it. Should humans be allowed to decide when life ends? On what basis?
Such a hard topic to take a stance on requires a deeper level of insight and research. For that reason, I’ll end with quotes from two American icons to consider in your decision.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”
On the other hand, economic scholar Thomas Sowell makes the argument, “People who claim that sentencing a murderer to ‘life without possibility of parole’ protects society just as well as the death penalty ignore three things: 1) life without the possibility of parole does not mean life without possibility of escape or 2) life without the possibility of killing while in prison or 3) life without the possibility of a liberal governor being elected and issuing a pardon.”