The Wyoming House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Friday to repeal the state’s little-used death penalty and set the maximum sentence at life in prison without parole.
And the vote was driven by Republicans.
The legislative move is the most recent step in a campaign by conservatives nationally to try to end the death penalty, a public policy position usually associated with the left.
For the right, the driving factors include a respect for life, a recognition that odds are too high that an easily manipulated criminal justice system can lead to the execution of the innocent, and an unwillingness to continue paying the absurdly high costs associated with trying to prevent that from happening (an impossible achievement).
Those are persuasive arguments.
But Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, which has been pushing for abolition, welcomed the vote:
"With only nine Democrats in the Wyoming House of Representatives, this vote was driven by Republicans who value life, who want to be fiscally responsible, and who believe in limiting the scope of government,” the group’s manager, Hannah Cox, said in a news release. “This active leadership of conservative state legislators wanting to end the death penalty reflects the trend we are seeing across the country. Wyoming is the latest signal that the death penalty is on its way out and that conservatives are leading the way.”
Wyoming is among 30 states — including California — that still have the death penalty, though 17 of them have not executed anyone in the last five years, according to statistics maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. In fact, 11 of those states haven’t killed anyone in at least a decade.
California’s last execution came in 2006, just before a court-ordered freeze. Which is a good thing. State Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) is hoping to introduce a bill that would put yet another initiative on the 2020 ballot asking voters to end the death penalty.
Yes, the state just voted on that in 2016, rejecting a ban and approving a slate of measures aimed at speeding up executions. But legal challenges have watered that initiative down and it seems unlikely the “machinery of death,” as Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun so famously phrased it, will be starting up anytime soon.
So we really ought to just be done with it.
But it will be interesting to see if Wyoming and other red states wind up doing first what the bluest of blue states, California, has failed to do: recognize the inherent inhumanity of putting someone to death, and ending capital punishment.