Three states will decide whether to continue the momentum against the death penalty

A member of the Abolition Action Committee hangs a sign in front of the Supreme Court in Washington during a 2008 vigil to abolish the death penalty. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Support for the death penalty has slipped to just below 50 percent, its lowest level in 40 years, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Further evidence of public attitudes can be expected on Election Day. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles is urging California voters to abolish capital punishment, writing that it deprives the condemned of “the chance to change his heart and make amends.” In Nebraska, voters will decide whether to reinstate the death penalty after it was repealed earlier this year by the legislature; in Oklahoma the question is whether to enshrine its capital punishment law in the state constitution.

Eight states have repealed the death penalty since 2000, but none by popular vote. The last time the death penalty lost at the ballot box was in Arizona in 1916, and it was reinstated two years later. This may be one reason why few national political leaders have joined the movement for repeal. Donald J. Trump notoriously took out newspaper ads in 1989 saying “Bring Back the Death Penalty” to New York after the arrest of five teenagers for the rape of a jogger in Central Park. (They were later exonerated.) Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton continues to support the death penalty, and her running mate, Tim Kaine, answered a question about “balancing” his Catholic faith with public policy by saying he had allowed executions to continue when he was governor of Virginia. Sadly, Mr. Kaine gave no indication that he would work to abolish the death penalty at any level of government.

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It is heartening that younger voters in particular are increasingly skeptical that the state has the right to execute human beings. But abolishing the death penalty at the federal level and in the 31 states where it remains is a daunting process that will require continued passion and commitment. The courts and the leaders of the two major political parties cannot be relied upon to advance this cause.

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Leonard Villa
1 year 1 month ago
Opposition to the use of the death penalty does not necessarily mean that the person also contests the right of the State to execute guilty human beings after a fair trial, who have committed serious crimes against society. It is not a general right to execute human beings as you assert. Pro-abortion proponents claim a general right to take the lives of pre-born human beings declaring them to be without value, not human, up to the moment of birth. This should engender more angst and horror than the use of the death penalty. Vatican II calls it an "unspeakable crime" along with infanticide. Traditional Catholic teaching asserts and upholds the right of the State to engage in capital punishment.Catechism of the Catholic Church #2267 . However it is without doubt true that papal and recent ecclesiastical statements about the death penalty are against its use. If one were to assert that it is Catholic teaching that the State does not have the right to execute a person guilty of a capital offense as a general principle, this would not be true. That is not Catholic teaching. You need to be more precise in your opposition to the use of the death penalty.

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