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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

New Mexico's bishops reject governor's plan to reinstate death penalty

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez
The Catholic bishops of New Mexico in an Aug. 18 statement said they oppose Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's plan to reinstate the death penalty and called on the Legislature to reject it.

The bishops recalled that when the Legislature in March 2009 repealed "the morally untenable practice of the death penalty," they applauded the move, calling it "a milestone" that was "moving New Mexico from a culture of violence to a culture of peace, justice and love."

"The state created life in prison without the possibility of parole. This renders a perpetrator harmless to society," they said.

"In one voice, (we) once again echo the teaching of the church that life is sacred," the New Mexico bishops said. "There is one seamless teaching on God's gift of life that must be protected from conception in the womb to natural death. It is always tragic and sad when a member of the community is murdered.

"These senseless acts must be prevented by calling for systemic change in society beginning with our youngest children. Crime can be prevented, and this is done by an investment in social capital," they said.

On Aug. 17, Martinez said she will push for reinstating the death penalty during the 2017 legislative session. She was prompted to call for resuming capital punishment after the recent shooting of a Hatch police officer. She said she supports the death penalty at least for convicted child killers and those convicted of murdering law enforcement officers.

She supported a measure to reinstate the death penalty shortly after she was elected governor in 2011, but the bill died in Democratic-majority Legislature.

The New Mexico bishops' quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St. John Paul II in saying that cases where it is "an absolute necessity" for the state to employ the death penalty to ensure the safety of the community "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

"We join Pope Francis in his continued call to end the practice of the death penalty," the bishops said. "Pope Benedict and St. Pope John Paul II both worked diligently to end the death penalty throughout the world. The trend in the United States has now been to abandon the use of the death penalty. In the last 5 years, 5 states have passed legislation to repeal their death penalty law."

The statement was signed by Archbishop John C. Wester and retired Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe; Bishop Oscar Cantu and retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces; and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup.

Source: Catholic News Service, August 23, 2016

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