Jimmy Carter’s Crusade Against the Death Penalty Is Lonely, But Is He Winning?

The former president called for a national moratorium at a time when public support for capital punishment is at a 40-year low.

'Old Sparky', the decommissioned electric chair in which 361 prisoners were executed between 1924 and 1964, at the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, Texas. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Dustin Volz
Nov. 12, 2013, 6:46 a.m.

Former Pres­id­ent Carter called for a na­tion­al morator­i­um on cap­it­al pun­ish­ment in the United States on Tues­day, de­clar­ing in a speech, “We should ab­ol­ish the death pen­alty here and throughout the world.”

Carter pro­ceeded to me­tic­u­lously enu­mer­ate the oft-cited eth­ic­al, fin­an­cial, and leg­al reas­ons for his op­pos­i­tion, which are noth­ing new for the oc­to­gen­ari­an; he ex­pressed doubt about the death pen­alty as far back as his pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns.

“Per­haps the strongest ar­gu­ment against the death pen­alty is its ex­treme bi­as against the poor, minor­it­ies, and those with men­tal dis­ab­il­it­ies,” Carter said at a na­tion­al sym­posi­um hos­ted by the Amer­ic­an Bar As­so­ci­ation at the Carter Cen­ter in At­lanta. “It’s hard to ima­gine a rich white man or wo­man go­ing to the death cham­ber after be­ing de­fen­ded by ex­pens­ive law­yers.”

Carter’s re­marks come at a time when sup­port for the death pen­alty among Amer­ic­ans has fallen to 60 per­cent, the low­est read­ing since 1972 and down from a mid-1990s high of 80 per­cent. States with cap­it­al pun­ish­ment are also fa­cing un­pre­ced­en­ted chal­lenges in their ef­forts to se­cure the drugs ne­ces­sary to per­form ex­e­cu­tions by way of leth­al in­jec­tion.

But 60 per­cent is still a strong ma­jor­ity, and Carter’s polit­ic­al battle is noth­ing if not lonely. Cap­it­al pun­ish­ment has not in­filt­rated main­stream polit­ic­al de­bate since at least 1988, when Vice Pres­id­ent Bush ef­fect­ively used Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent Mi­chael Duka­kis’s op­pos­i­tion to paint him as soft on crime. Vir­tu­ally every pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate dur­ing the past sev­er­al cycles has sup­por­ted the death pen­alty, al­though former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo con­demned the prac­tice in 2011 for killing “many in­no­cent people.”

Still, pub­lic sen­ti­ment on cap­it­al pun­ish­ment moves more than on abor­tion rights, and Carter sees oth­er op­tions for ban­ning the prac­tice, in­clud­ing the Su­preme Court. He sug­ges­ted that the all the leg­al sys­tem needed was a punch in the gut to con­sider re­sum­ing the morator­i­um handed down in 1972 as a res­ult of the Su­preme Court’s Fur­man v. Geor­gia opin­ion.

“The Su­preme Court is heav­ily in­flu­enced by pub­lic opin­ion,” Carter said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Su­preme Court changes its mind on a num­ber of is­sues, par­tic­u­larly so­cial is­sues, be­cause of pub­lic opin­ion.”

What We're Following See More »
KELLOGG WILL RETURN TO NSC COS
Trump Taps Lt. Gen. McMaster as NSC Head
2 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump announced Monday that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will serve as his next national security adviser, filling the void left last week by the sudden dismissal of Michael Flynn. ... Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who had been serving as the acting national security adviser since Flynn's exit, will return to his role as chief of staff of the National Security Council." The pick was widely praised on both sides of the aisle.

Source:
PLANS TO CURB ITS POWER
Pruitt Confirmed As EPA Head
3 days ago
BREAKING
WOULD HAVE REPLACED FLYNN
Harward Turns Down NSC Job
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Ret. Vice Adm. Bob Harward turned down President Donald Trump's offer to be national security adviser Thursday, depriving the administration of a top candidate for a critical foreign policy post days after Trump fired Michael Flynn." Among the potential reasons: his family, his lack of assurances that he could build his own team, and that "the White House seems so chaotic."

Source:
REVERSES OBAMA RULE
House Votes to Let States Block Planned Parenthood Funds
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"The House passed a resolution Thursday re-opening the door for states to block Planned Parenthood from receiving some federal funds. The measure, which passed 230-188, would reverse a last-minute rule from the Obama administration that said conservative states can't block the women's health and abortion provider from receiving family planning dollars under the Title X program."

Source:
FORMER PROSECUTOR
Alexander Acosta to Get Nod for Labor
4 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login