Thursday, December 5, 2013

Unlikely Alliance: The Conservative Push Against the Death Penalty

The always-passionate debate over capital punishment is set against a moral backdrop. Advocates argue that death is appropriate retribution for convicted killers, while opponents cite a range of faults, from the perceived immorality of execution per se to the arbitrary, discriminatory doling out of death sentences. (There’s a lot of noise about deterrence, but very little signal.)

But there's one fact about the death penalty that everyone can agree upon, and a big one at that: Capital punishment is expensive. And most supporters can’t help but acknowledge that there’s no way around the inordinate cost. 

The bulk of the expense is due to the appeals process, the truncation of which would inevitably result in an even more wildly erratic system and the execution of more innocent people. Even those who favor—or at least don’t object to—the theory of killing convicts have begun to embrace this truth.

Last month, The Washington Times and MSNBC’s The Last Word covered the burgeoning conservative movement in opposition to the death penalty, which apparently has a friend in libertarian Rand Paul. Though there is at least some moral element to the stance of groups like Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, their allure really hinges on dollars and cents. 

Given the erosion in public support for the death penalty, this drive is worth monitoring. It shouldn’t be a surprise if, after decades of dispute, the responsibility for capital punishment’s eventual demise rests with the almighty dollar.

For information about one of the primary bases for challenging the death penalty, see The Meaning of “Cruel and Unusual Punishment.”