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 »
$618 BILLION IN FUNDING
By a Big Margin, House Passes Defense Bill
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."

Source:
SUCCEEDS UPTON
Walden to Chair Energy and Commerce Committee
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.

Source:
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT
Senators Looking to Limit Deportations Under Trump
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on legislation that would limit deportations" under President-elect Donald Trump. Leading the effort are Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is also expected to sign on.

Source:
REQUIRES CHANGE IN LAW
Trump Taps Mattis for Defense Secretary
2 days ago
BREAKING

Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as his secretary of defense, according to The Washington Post. Mattis retired from active duty just four years ago, so Congress will have "to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years." The official announcement is likely to come next week.

Source:
MEASURE HEADED TO OBAMA
Senate OKs 10-Year Extension of Iran Sanctions
2 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