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Abolitionism Runs Aground


A few days ago, I put up an entry about a previously convicted killer serving LWOP who knifed to death a prison guard.  The next day, the story was picked up by Sentencing Law and Policy, a popular legal blog.  SL&P, although center-left in its orientation, noted that a case of that sort makes it very problematic categorically to oppose the death penalty.

The story generated (so far) 68 comments, which is a very large number by the standards of that blog.  A dozen abolitionists chimed in.  I repeatedly asked them the following question:

"What punishment, short of the death penalty, do you suggest for this case that is (1) consistent with the Eighth Amendment, (2) likely to deter LWOP inmates from murder, and (3) proportionate to the offense?"

I first posed the question five days ago.  Most readers of C&C will not be surprised to learn that, through all 68 comments, not a single abolitionist has answered it. 

The reason is not that hard to figure out.  They don't have an answer. 

So in what condition does that leave abolitionism today?  

Satellite View of Cruise Tragedy


It is possible to make moral arguments against the death penalty, but most abolitionists are too interested in moral preening than actual debate. The reality is that the death penalty can save lives, and abolitionists need to acknowledge that. Adherence to the Fourth Amendment costs lives--but to a certain extent, that's the price we pay for a free society.

What continues to mystify me is the undercurrent of shame about the fact that we kill people for certain crimes. Personally, I wish the death penalty were not necessary, just as I wish war were not necessary, but there is nothing to be ashamed of in the execution of vicious murderers. The shame sometimes manifests itself in squeamishness. In my view, that is pathetic.

I think the death penalty is in trouble in the US. One sees the writing on the wall in cases like Maples, where SCOTUS is willing to reach down and take a case with one-in-a-million facts and twist the facts to suit a preferred outcome. One sees it in the willingness of the Arkansas courts to inflict an appalling limbo on a survivor of an assault that killed her own mother.

It would be one thing if abolitionists would say, "It's true that only the death penalty (1) is proportionate punishment here, (2) would provide any realistic deterrence, and (3) satisfies the Eighth Amendment (which perpetual solitary confinement would not). It follows that only the death penalty meets the baseline criteria accepted in all other contexts for criminal punishment. But I simply believe it's immoral for the state to kill its citizens for any reason."

That at least would be honest and sincere.

The reason they won't say it is that it concedes the national debate to retentionists. Mere subjective, religious or reflexive opposition is not going to carry the day in the national debate. To admit that in this case -- scarcely the only one of its kind -- only the death penalty meets the historically established and consensus criteria for criminal punishment, is to admit that its use should not always be barred. Game, set, match.

A good proportion of anti-DP proponents I have met and read, employ an “end justifies the means” strategy that I esteem as unethical (Rom 3:8 ).

Their undemocratic, unjust position is rationally insolvent, so they collapse into the posture of Machiavelli: “The prince…should know how to follow evil courses if he must.”

Among the deviant means of abolitionist attorneys and authorities have been:
|| governors’ moratoria ||
|| stalls & legal manoeuvres ||
|| irrelevant complaints no matter how vacuous ||
|| provocative & untrue allegations of racism or classism ||.

As you say, Federalist, judges have moved significantly and may go further to undue the will of the majority here as have officials in power in the UK, Canada, and elsewhere.

So be it, the truth abides with us, and hopefully she will fell this opposition to justice.

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