Voters in three states delivered a sharp rebuke to anti-death penalty forces in last week’s elections, adding to Right’s cascade of electoral victories. Governing magazine reports:
The death penalty is legal in 30 states, but a growing number have repealed it in the last decade. California and Nebraska, however, won’t be adding their states to the list.
While voters in those two states decided to keep capital punishment, voters in Oklahoma — where botched executions have led to a temporary moratorium — strengthened their state’s ability to carry it out.
In the two red states—Nebraska and Oklahoma—the death penalty was approved by strong double-digit margins. In deep-blue California, meanwhile, a measure to repeal the death penalty failed with a narrower 46.1 percent support. Meanwhile, a second death penalty resolution in the Golden State, which would accelerate the appeals process and ostensibly lead to more executions, passed with a razor-thin 50.9 percent of the vote.
The election of Donald Trump is also a major blow to death penalty abolitionists, as the Amherst professor Austin Sarat notes. Not only does a Trump administration seem likely to pursue the federal death penalty more aggressively than a Clinton administration would have, but conservative judicial appointments will be less likely to rule the practice unconstitutional.
These decisive outcomes come at a time when the death penalty has seemed, to many, to be on life support. Many polls show support for executions declining steadily from its high-crime 1990s highs, and states and the federal government are “on track for the fewest executions since 1991,” according to Pew.
The outcome of last Tuesday’s voting does not mean that the death penalty is ascendant once again. Executions will likely continue to be exceedingly rare, reserved for the most heinous crimes and carried out disproportionately by a handful of Southern states. But it is another reminder that, on yet another issue, the triumph of social liberalism is anything but assured.