Why Supporting the Death Penalty is Now a GOP Fringe Position

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Illustration by Audrey Winter via Flickr

When I accepted the job as the national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, I encountered a mixture of concern and trepidation from friends and colleagues.

Many thought I would be the target of extreme backlash, or at best become frustrated trying to achieve what they saw as impossible.

It didn’t work out that way.

Over the past two years, I’ve assisted in successfully ending the death penalty in four states—two legislatively and two through moratoria. My work has been featured in thousands of media outlets, and our coalitions have broadened.

And the backlash? It never really happened.

Instead, I’ve been joined by dozens of fellow Republicans, including state lawmakers who have sponsored repeal efforts across our country each year.

As anyone working in advocacy will tell you, state legislatures tend to act about 10 years behind public consensus. If dozens of Republicans are not only voting for—but also sponsoring—death penalty repeal bills at this point, that should tell you where the culture has been on the issue for some time.

In just two months of pre-COVID 2020, eight state legislatures had already seen Republicans introduce repeal legislation. In one of them—Colorado—they passed it. Though legislative sessions were halted early this year, states like Ohio, Wyoming, Virginia, and Nevada are quickly gaining momentum for their efforts and could see their systems overturned in the next several years.

All in all, 53 Republicans signed on as sponsors in those eight states.

Moreover, 2020 is no outlier year. In 2019, we saw similar numbers of Republicans sponsor bills across 10 states.

My organization began studying the growing trend of conservative support for repealing the death penalty a number of years ago. We summarized our findings in “The Right Way Report.”

What we discovered was a sharp increase in the number of GOP-sponsored repeal bills, beginning in 2012. By 2016, there was a ten-fold increase from 2000, and 67 percent of the Republican sponsors tracked were carrying bills in red states.

The GOP’s national platform still contains a pro-death penalty position, but few are standing by it these days.

Support for capital punishment is increasingly viewed as fringe and out of date, as it should be.

A quick Internet search readily shows the numerous problems with the system, and it’s not exactly something most people want to get caught advocating publicly.

The days of the death penalty are limited. Who wants to defend a system that sentences innocent people to die at a rate of one for every nine executions?

Few want to die on the hill of a system that fails to act as a deterrent, and also wastes in excess of a million dollars per case. Put another way, this is a program that makes society less safe, because it is an opportunity cost that prevents us from spending our resources on solving more crimes, or on programs that actually do prevent violence.

And the racial and socioeconomic bias running rampant in the system is hardly something well-intentioned people find they can explain away.

We’re down to only 25 states with operating execution systems, and of those, many have not carried one out in a decade or more. In the past five years, the nation has seen fewer than 30 executions annually, largely occurring in seven or eight states, with Texas responsible for more than half the total.

In every single execution, there have been significant issues of innocence, overt bias, poor representation, or a defendant with severe mental impairment. Often, you’ll find a combination present. No one but those on the fringes of polite society would want to touch that with a 10-foot pole.

While the mainstream media may not have alerted the masses, the reality is that most Republicans turned against the death penalty some time ago.

Hannah Cox

Hannah Cox

Their leadership is now quietly sealing the history books on this failed big government program, and the history books are where its stains belong.

See Also: Capital Punishment and the ‘Culture of Revenge,’ The Crime Report, May 20, 2020

Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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