In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Oklahoma: Voters should say no to SQ 776

Oklahoma's Death Chamber
Oklahoma's Death Chamber
OKLAHOMA'S state constitution is among the nation's longest, largely because it is packed with provisions that should have been handled in statute. If anything, the Oklahoma Constitution should be reduced in size, not expanded.

That alone justifies opposition to State Question 776 and State Question 777. Both would add provisions to the constitution without any obvious public benefit in response to no obvious problem.

State Question 776 endorses the death penalty, and mandates that the Legislature has the power to authorize new methods of execution should current methods (lethal injection) be declared unconstitutional by federal courts. Yet the death penalty is already constitutional and the Legislature already determines execution methods. So SQ 776 changes nothing, and its passage would have little bearing on federal court rulings.

SQ 776 and SQ 777 are both unnecessary, and should be rejected by Oklahoma voters on Nov. 8.

Source: The Oklahoman, The Oklahoman Editorial, October 30, 2016

Tulsa World editorial: State Question 776 accomplishes little and should be rejected

We can’t find that State Question 776 would accomplish much, if anything, if it passes, and can’t see any reason why state voters on either side of the capital punishment debate should vote for it.

The proposal would add a new section to the state Constitution to “enshrine” the death penalty in Oklahoma. Although the state’s ability to carry out capital punishment has fallen into doubt in recent years, the death penalty already is well established in state law, a fact that is made obvious by the fact that we have put 111 murderers to death since 1990 and have another 48 people sitting on death row.

Those 48 earned their fate as far a we’re concerned, but SQ 776 won’t speed their progress to the state’s death chamber one bit.

What would the proposal do?

It would explicitly give the Legislature the power to designate any method of execution not prohibited by the United States Constitution. The Legislature already clearly has that authority. It would say that death sentences won’t be reduced if a method of execution is ruled invalid, which also seems like settled law. And it defines that the death penalty in general will not be considered cruel or unusual punishment, which is also a settled issue.

That makes SQ 776 essentially a “dang right!” proposition. It’s intended effect is to allow supporters of the death penalty to feel as if they have done something, even if they haven’t.

But there’s a problem with such symbolic votes.

The measure has no intended consequences, but the nature of unintended consequences is that they are unintended, and sometimes unpredictable. We do know this: Whenever the state messes with its death penalty law, it creates a new set of issues for inmates and their lawyers to test in court.

We can’t see that SQ 776 would have any effect on the likelihood of capital punishment being carried out in Oklahoma. Regardless of your position on the death penalty, there’s no need for this one.

Source: Tulsa World, Editorials, October 18, 2016

Oklahoma: Questions 776, 790 should be defeated

Oklahoma voters will have seven state questions to decide on the Nov. 8 ballot.

That’s a lot of information to digest and then come up with an informed decision.

Two of the questions, in our opinion, shouldn’t even be on the ballot and should be defeated.

State Question 776 would change the Oklahoma Constitution with respect to the death penalty.

For one, it would address methods of execution and states the death penalty can’t be deemed cruel and unusual punishment. Further, it would allow executions to continue even if one method of execution is no longer unavailable. The kicker is the executions would have to be by a method not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

There is no need for this question. Courts have to follow state law, but they also have to follow federal law. And, federal law always trumps state law.

Even if SQ 776 passes, there is nothing to prevent a challenge to it or to a method of execution in federal court.

The other question we have trouble with is State Question 790, which would change the section of the state Constitution that prohibits the government from using public money or property for the benefit of any religion or religious institution.

Under SQ 790, the use of public funds or property would not be explicitly prohibited.

Once again, though, even if this question passes, the state of Oklahoma would have to follow the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the First Amendment. Under the First Amendment, “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This question came about because of the recent controversy over the display of the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol grounds. A monument was erected, then taken down after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional.

We could see continued lawsuits and challenges if SQ 790 is adopted, and those challenges likely would be upheld on the basis of the First Amendment.

Both SQ 776 and SQ 790 are not needed, and — in our opinion — wouldn’t survive constitutional challenges.

Voters should mark “no” on their ballots.

Source: Edmond Sun, Editorial, October 13, 2016

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