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

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…

State Senator Chambers submits new bill to repeal Nebraska's death penalty

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP/KMTV) - Nebraska voters brought back the death penalty in November but that debate will return to the unicameral.

State Senator Ernie Chambers introduced his latest bill to eliminate executions two years after a similar measure became law.

Chambers has tried to outlaw the punishment for roughly four decades.

While nearly 61-percent of voters decided to overturn the legislature's decision to abolish the death penalty, Senator Chambers takes the fight to the legislature again.

KMTV spoke to UNO political scientist Paul Landow who says never underestimate Senator Chambers.

“There's no way anyone should count out senator Chambers. He's a wily tough competitor - he's made it happen before when no one thought he could,” said Landow.

Landow says the fate of the death penalty is again now in the hands of the senators.

“Now there’s only 49 votes again that matter versus the entire state of Nebraska if you're trying to get it back through the legislature,” said Landow.

In 2015, a majority of senators voted with Senator Chambers to get rid of the death penalty and overcame a veto from Governor Pete Ricketts.

A group partially financed by Ricketts responded with a petition drive that suspended the law until voters decided whether to keep it.

In November of 2016 more than 60-percent of Nebraska voters decided to reinstate the death penalty in a very contentious fight between the two sides on this issue.

Landow says those results could weigh in when senators debate this bill, “Some senators may say ‘well look ,my constituents spoke and I don't want to get into it anymore’”.

The makeup of the legislature is different now too, with 17 brand new senators who haven't dealt with this issue before, and a number of them re-elected.

“It's entirely possible that a senator that's really opposed to it deep down the year he or she was re-elected but now has been reelected and is opposed to it again,” said Landow.

But with a more conservative legislature it may be an uphill battle.

“I suppose you would have to say the odds are against him,” said Landow.

However Landow points out the legislature is an independent body and could surprise us all.

KMTV did reach out to many of our local senators for comment, Senator Bill Kintner said, “The Legislature has a lot of work to do, including passing a budget. A death penalty repeal bill is a distraction that has no chance of passing this legislature.”

Senator John Murante said, “The people spoke loud and clear and the death penalty will remain the law in our state. We should respect the will of the voters.”

Source: Associated Press, KMTV, January 17, 2017

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