The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.
In a sign of votes to come Justice Neil Gorsuch set aside his regard for human life and cast his vote to deny the stay of execution for death-row inmates in Arkansas.
After more than a decade since the last instance of capital punishment in Arkansas, Ledell Lee was executed late Thursday night and pronounced dead just minutes before his death warrant expired.
Dissenting from the high court’s ruling Justice Stephen Breyer raised several important questions regarding this case:
Arkansas set out to execute eight people over the course of 11 days. Why these eight? Why now? The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes or with the presence (or absence) of mitigating behavior. It has nothing to do with their mental state. It has nothing to do with the need for speedy punishment. Four have been on death row for over 20 years. All have been housed in solitary confinement for at least 10 years. Apparently the reason the State decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the ‘use by’ date of the State’s execution drug is about to expire. In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random.
The apparent reasoning of the State here is beyond disturbing. More the treading close to randomness begs questions of constitutionality.
Capital punishment already has a long history of being applied inconsistently especially when it comes to persons of color who are far more likely to be sentenced to death. Wrongful convictions have led to innocent people being executed by the state for crimes they did not commit. What does the state have to say to those who had inadequate counsel or exonerating evidence not available or admitted? What recourse is there for families who lose innocent loved ones?
Now as if there were not already enough variables in deciding who dies and who doesn’t in capital cases, Arkansas sees the expiration date looming on a drug cocktail that is becoming controversial and attempts to send eight people to the death chamber over 11 days. Justice Breyer’s questions cannot be ignored and must be answered. Until the death penalty can be abolished once and for all his questions among many others remain as the capital sentence continues to be capriciously carried out.
A basic ethic of life and human dignity should be enough to end this cruel and unusual punishment. It is the cruelest form of retributive justice that does nothing to bring about restoration or reconciliation among the injured parties. It only results in more death which solves nothing.
It will soon not only be the capricious application of capital punishment that will be an alarming action of Justice Gorsuch, but potentially the death of millions of Americans as his rulings favor corporate interests over the lives of ordinary people. Voting rights, civil rights, and all manner of human rights will be stripped away for the almighty corporate dollar. Without voice at the ballot box many Americans will be silenced into submission and forced to accept policies that will destroy their lives from poverty wages and an unfair tax burden to continued crumbling infrastructure and access to affordable housing and health care. Without civil rights protections, many risk losing employment and housing and access to benefits for health care and retirement. And the basic human right to clean water is being denied to people across the country as they are forced to pay for lead poisoned water that is being delivered to their homes.
In a move from the ironic to the tragic, as action is delayed in addressing climate change, the polluters for profits are destroying the very habitat that makes all life possible. If not for health of the planet then perhaps out of patriotic duty to one’s country the health of our shared planet could be placed before corporate profit and Republican party ideology. As Bill Nye pointed out in an interview on MSNBC’s AM Joy addressing climate change is written into the U.S. Constitution. “It’s in the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, to promote the progress of science and useful arts.”
Melting icebergs are not only causing problems for polar bears and other wild life in the arctic, but the resulting rising sea levels are leading to flooding in places like Bangladesh. Here the poorest of the poor the suffer the greatest impact of climate change as entire villages risk being wiped out. This is yet another example of how those who contribute least to a problem suffer the most from it. Further, it is beyond their capacity to significantly address climate change in ways wealthier countries like the United States can and must.
The capriciousness of capital punishment must be stopped along with all the anti-life policies that trap people in poverty and pollute our planet to points beyond repair. The moral conscience of the nation is speaking for science and for life. If only Donald Trump and the conservatives in Congress and on the high court would heed this call or perhaps they want the terrorists to win.