The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice plans to release its report on the death penalty today. The press release is here. The circumstances of this commission's creation and its actions to date do not bode well for anyone hoping for a fair, balanced report.
The commission was created by former California Senate leader John Burton, a dyed-in-the-wool opponent of the death penalty. Normally, commissions are set up by legislation through the standard process of bicameral approval plus governor's signature. Burton set up his commission by a unilateral resolution of the Senate alone, Senate Resolution 44 of 2004. This unique mode of creation enabled him to keep the appointments entirely in the hands of the Senate Rules Committee, which is firmly under the control of the left wing-tip of the Democratic Party.
The commission promptly retained as its executive director Dean Gerald Uelmen of Santa Clara U. Law, a well-known partisan for the anti-death-penalty side of the debate. If they had intentionally wanted to undermine their credibility as a fair review, they could scarcely have made a better choice.
The commission has funded various people to do research on the administration of the death penalty in California. All but one of the contracts went to anti-death-penalty academics. The one exception was a feasibility study on costs by Rand Corporation, and that study produced no firm conclusions.
We respectfully dissent from the Report and Recommendations on the Administration of the Death Penalty in California, which was issued today by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. Regrettably, we believe the majority report indirectly assaults California’s death penalty by seeking to undermine public confidence in our capital punishment law and procedure. While the majority refrains from making specific recommendations to weaken this voter approved law, the tone and unbalanced discussion of potential reform is anything but neutral. By doing so, the majority exceeds the scope of its original charge and unfortunately, diminishes the value of other worthwhile recommendations.