Saturday, September 29, 2007

Texas and the Death Penalty

By Norman Markowitz

The right-wing Republican controlled Texas state government is planning to go ahead with executions by lethal injection on an "individual basis" after the Texas Supreme Court stayed on execution by lethal injection in order to examine the issue more fully. In 1972, the Supreme Court in effect ended the death penalty in the U.S. for a short period of time. In 1976, a more conservative court gave states the right to institute the death penalty (many have, some like Massachusetts have not, and the use of the death penalty and its actual implementation varies greatly among the states with Texas having long been a leader in both death penalty verdicts and executions).

The death penalty has been abolished in most of the developed world, where its elimination is seen as a benchmark of civilization in a first world country. Thanks to progressive activists, death penalty moratoriums have been established in a number of major states and, except among its rightist advocates, the death penalty is very much in decline today after rising massively in the 1980s and 1990s (at one point, George W. Bush, as governor of Texas in the 1990s, set the record for state executions one year and then broke his own record in a following year).

But even if one excepts that states have the right to institute the death penalty, which the Supreme Court established in 1976, do governors and attorneys general of states have the "right" to ignore their own state Supreme Courts and execute whom they want?

All of this reminds me of Andrew Jackson's famous comment as president, when the Supreme Court overturned the trial and death penalty of a Native American by the state of Georgia because the incident for which he was tried took place on Native American land protected by treaty with the U.S. government on which Georgia had no jurisdiction--"John Marshall (the Chief Justice at the time) has made his decision. Now let him enforce it." The Native American was of course executed and Jackson's act continues to be a stain on the national honor of the Republic.

The Texas government is saying to its state Supreme Court essentially what Andrew Jackson did so long ago. The death penalty must be abolished nationally if the U.S. is gain respect in the world community and right-wing Republicans like those who control Texas today can and must be defeated politically through the nation if words like progress, justice, democracy, and civilization itself are to have any meaning.

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