Is the Death Penalty Dying?

Washington became the eighth state in 10 years to suspend the death penalty, as growing numbers of Americans are opposing the practice.

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. 
National Journal
Scott Bland
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Scott Bland
Feb. 13, 2014, midnight

The im­me­di­ate con­sequence of Wash­ing­ton Gov. Jay Inslee’s de­cision to sus­pend the state’s death pen­alty Tues­day fits in­to a na­tion­al trend. Eight states in the past dec­ade have rolled back the death pen­alty, an ac­cel­er­ated pace mim­ick­ing the rap­idly chan­ging pub­lic opin­ion sur­round­ing same-sex mar­riage that star­ted at the same time.

Pub­lic opin­ion over these two cul­tur­al wedge is­sues of the 1990s has changed dra­mat­ic­ally since that time. And in blue states, both pub­lic opin­ion and pub­lic policy have moved sig­ni­fic­antly since Bill Clin­ton said Demo­crats “should no longer feel guilty about pro­tect­ing the in­no­cent” with cap­it­al pun­ish­ment. (To prove he was tough on crime, Clin­ton left the cam­paign trail in 1992 to preside over the ex­e­cu­tion of con­victed mur­der­er Rickey Ray Rect­or.) Clin­ton also later signed the De­fense of Mar­riage Act bar­ring fed­er­al re­cog­ni­tion of same-sex mar­riages two dec­ades ago.

{{third­PartyEmbed type:in­ter­act­ive­google­charts source:ht­tps://docs.google.com/a/na­tion­al­journ­al.com/spread­sheet/oimg?key=0AlxQ0e­jtCLId­dE5ZW­m­VZZ2N­qLXN­vZjBx­WTdpNUl­HVlE&oid=1&zx=q7jll­h8n­bf02}}

Now, more than 100 mil­lion people live in states without the death pen­alty. Like Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon’s death-pen­alty roll­back is a pause, not a full re­peal: Gov. John Kitzhaber an­nounced a morator­i­um on ex­e­cu­tions in 2011. Six oth­er states have per­man­ently ended cap­it­al pun­ish­ment since 2004. New York kicked things off with a court de­cision that year find­ing cap­it­al pun­ish­ment un­con­sti­tu­tion­al, a ver­dict fi­nal­ized in 2007. That’s the year New Jer­sey en­acted the coun­try’s first death-pen­alty re­peal le­gis­la­tion in dec­ades. New Mex­ico, Illinois, Con­necti­c­ut, and Mary­land all fol­lowed suit in the last sev­en years. No states had moved to undo their death pen­al­ties in the 20 years be­fore New York did a dec­ade ago.

The same day that Inslee an­nounced his de­cision in Wash­ing­ton, a state House com­mit­tee in New Hamp­shire voted 14-3 to ad­vance a death-pen­alty re­peal bill there. Ac­cord­ing to the Con­cord Mon­it­or, some of the sup­port­ers had pre­vi­ously voted against re­peal­ing cap­it­al pun­ish­ment.

Wash­ing­ton’s move is a tem­por­ary one, but Inslee said Tues­day that a goal of his de­cision was to push the state to de­cide more per­man­ently if it still wants to im­pose death on some crim­in­als. “With my ac­tion today I ex­pect Wash­ing­ton state will join a grow­ing na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion about cap­it­al pun­ish­ment,” Inslee said in a speech. “I wel­come that and I’m con­fid­ent that our cit­izens will en­gage in this very im­port­ant de­bate.”

Richard Di­eter, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Death Pen­alty In­form­a­tion Cen­ter, said states that im­pose morator­i­ums of­ten go on to ab­ol­ish the death pen­alty en­tirely. “New Jer­sey had a morator­i­um and even­tu­ally be­came an ab­ol­i­tion state,” Di­eter said. “Illinois took 11 years and a num­ber of gov­ernors be­fore they ab­ol­ished it, but it did end up that way. But there have been states where ex­e­cu­tions were on hold and they got back to them. One gov­ernor doesn’t con­trol things.”

Sup­port for the death pen­alty for murders, which peaked at 80 per­cent in 1994, ac­cord­ing to Gal­lup, has de­clined markedly since. The last time the polling com­pany meas­ured pub­lic opin­ion, in Oc­to­ber, sup­port was down to 60 per­cent, the low­est mark since the 1970s.

While sup­port for cap­it­al pun­ish­ment trends down­ward, sup­port for same-sex mar­riage has swung up at about the same rate, from 27 per­cent in 1996 to 54 per­cent last year, again ac­cord­ing to Gal­lup. And again, 17 mostly Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing states have moved to al­low same-sex mar­riages, start­ing with Mas­sachu­setts via a court de­cision in 2004.

Both over­lap­ping col­lec­tions of states — those without a death pen­alty and those with same-sex mar­riage — are clustered in the North­east and Up­per Mid­w­est and on the West Coast. Pres­id­ent Obama won every state that leg­al­ized same-sex mar­riage in both 2008 and 2012 and re­cor­ded the same per­fect re­cord in the states that have rolled back cap­it­al pun­ish­ment, too.

So far, Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing states haven’t joined the last dec­ade worth of activ­ity on the death pen­alty and same-sex mar­riage, re­flect­ing how pub­lic opin­ion on both is­sues does re­main po­lar­ized. But the burst of le­gis­la­tion, court de­cisions, and gubernat­ori­al de­cisions in these blue states demon­strate how these two “cul­ture war” is­sues of two dec­ades past have joined the polit­ic­al main­stream.

What We're Following See More »
TWO MONTHS AFTER REFUSING AT CONVENTION
Cruz to Back Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST
WHO TO BELIEVE?
Two Polls for Clinton, One for Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

With three days until the first debate, the polls are coming fast and furious. The latest round:

  • An Associated Press/Gfk poll of registered voters found very few voters committed, with Clin­ton lead­ing Trump, 37% to 29%, and Gary John­son at 7%.
  • A Mc­Clatchy-Mar­ist poll gave Clin­ton a six-point edge, 45% to 39%, in a four-way bal­lot test. Johnson pulls 10% support, with Jill Stein at 4%.
  • Rasmussen, which has drawn criticism for continually showing Donald Trump doing much better than he does in other polls, is at it again. A new survey gives Trump a five-point lead, 44%-39%.
NO SURPRISE
Trump Eschewing Briefing Materials in Debate Prep
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shun­ning tra­di­tion­al de­bate pre­par­a­tions, but has been watch­ing video of…Clin­ton’s best and worst de­bate mo­ments, look­ing for her vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.” Trump “has paid only curs­ory at­ten­tion to brief­ing ma­ter­i­als. He has re­fused to use lecterns in mock de­bate ses­sions des­pite the ur­ging of his ad­visers. He prefers spit­balling ideas with his team rather than hon­ing them in­to crisp, two-minute an­swers.”

Source:
TRUMP NO HABLA ESPANOL
Trump Makes No Outreach to Spanish Speakers
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "is on the precipice of becoming the only major-party presidential candidate this century not to reach out to millions of American voters whose dominant, first or just preferred language is Spanish. Trump has not only failed to buy any Spanish-language television or radio ads, he so far has avoided even offering a translation of his website into Spanish, breaking with two decades of bipartisan tradition."

Source:
$1.16 MILLION
Clintons Buy the House Next Door in Chappaqua
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Bill and Hillary Clinton have purchased the home next door to their primary residence in tony Chappaqua, New York, for $1.16 million. "By purchasing the new home, the Clinton's now own the entire cul-de-sac at the end of the road in the leafy New York suburb. The purchase makes it easier for the United States Secret Service to protect the former president and possible future commander in chief."

Source:
×