Cross posted yesterday at Notes on a Theory.
Today, Up With Chris Hayes featured a good discussion of wrongful convictions and the death penalty. But Chris repeated a misleading claim about public opinion on the death penalty that highlights a larger problem. The claim was that Americans overwhelmingly support the death penalty, and therefore efforts to repeal the death penalty face a serious challenge in terms of changing people’s minds. Chris pointed to a poll showing that a solid majority of Americans said the death penalty was morally justified. More typically, people point to polls that ask simply if people support or oppose the death penalty.
With the stroke of his pen, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today ended the embarrassment caused the state by a broken, dysfunctional and dangerous death penalty system — a system that had seen 20 men exonerated and released over the past several years. Governor Quinn’s action today comes little more than eleven years after then-Governor George Ryan first placed a moratorium on executions in Illinois after he became convinced that the system was flawed and risked executing an innocent person. The measure signed today, Senate Bill 3539, was adopted by the Illinois General Assembly in December after more than a decade of debate, discussion and analysis of Illinois’ system of capital punishment.
“By repealing the death penalty, Gov. Quinn and the Illinois legislature have taken an historic stand against the systemic injustices that plague the entire death penalty system in Illinois and the rest of the United States,” said John Holdridge, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. “Executions in this country are carried out as part of an unequal system of justice, in which too often innocent people are sentenced to death and decisions about who lives and who dies are largely dependent upon the skill of their attorneys, the race of their victim, their socioeconomic status and where the crime took place. Such arbitrary and discriminatory administration of the death penalty, which comes at a huge financial cost to taxpayers, is the very definition of a failed system, and the state of Illinois is to be commended for ending it.”