Flouting the will of the people on death penalty

Flouting the will of the people on death penalty

November 26th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

The American people are sharply divided on the death penalty. Some consider it a just punishment for the most horrible crimes. Others believe it should never be imposed.

One thing that is certain, however, is that capital punishment is permissible under the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment states that "No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law ... ."

So long as due process of law is provided, therefore, it is constitutional to impose the death penalty.

Of course, on the political side, it is understandable that states will differ on whether and when to allow the death penalty. That is a matter for elected lawmakers to decide, with voters having the right to remove lawmakers if they adopt policies that the public opposes.

What is not appropriate is for either elected or unelected officials to flout the will of the people by substituting their personal views on capital punishment for laws that were duly enacted by legislators.

Liberal justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have done that by citing vague "evolving standards of decency" to strike down capital punishment laws.

And now, the liberal governor of Oregon has declared that the death penalty will no longer be imposed on his watch -- despite Oregon laws that provide for capital punishment in rare cases. The governor, John Kitzhaber, essentially acknowledged that he was imposing his views in lieu of upholding the Oregon Constitution.

Ironically, the moratorium he placed on the death penalty spared the life of a twice-convicted murderer who was to be put to death in December -- and who had declined to have appeals filed on his behalf.

We can understand if any American holds a personal conviction that capital punishment is wrong. But if a governor who has sworn to uphold the laws of his state finds he cannot do that in good conscience, the solution is to step down, not to undermine the rule of law.