“Plagued by wrongful convictions, high costs, and delays, the death penalty has proven to be ineffective and incompatible with a number of core conservative principles. It runs afoul of conservative commitments to limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a culture of life.”
That’s according to a report published by the four-year-old organization, “Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty,” that maintains that “more Republicans are recognizing that the death penalty is a broken policy and [are] taking an active role in efforts to end it.”
The study, “The Right Way,” looked at Republican legislators who sponsored repeal legislation from 2000 to 2017, and found:
- In 2016, ten times as many Republicans sponsored repeal bills than in 2000.
- By 2017, the percentage of sponsors who were Republican was more than six times the same figure in 2007, with over 31% of all death penalty repeal sponsors being Republican.
- Republicans in red states are taking on even more leadership than those in blue states, with more than 67 percent of the Republicans who sponsored death penalty repeal bills doing so in red states.
- Republicans constituted about a third of all sponsors of death penalty repeal bills in state legislatures in 2015-2017.
“The most significant finding in the report is the continued dramatic surge of Republican sponsors starting in 2013,” says Marc Hyden, CCADP’s National Advocacy Coordinator. “It’s not an anomalous spike either. The years following 2013 showed increased Republican interest in repealing the death penalty as the movement gained real momentum, and I expect to see this trend continue into the coming years. The upward trend has been sustained as more Republicans sponsor repeal bills and they make up a much larger percentage of the total number of repeal sponsors.”
The report was a “surprise” to Nebraska State Sen. Ernie Chambers. He has sponsored at least 36 bills to repeal the death penalty over the past 40 years. He finally succeeded in 2015, only to see the bill rejected by Nebraska voters last November. “That’s a very high percentage of Republican-sponsored repeal bills,” he says. Still, he’s not optimistic that this conservative trend will have much effect in his conservative state. “Nebraska is a strange place. It’s as if it’s caught in a time warp. If somebody gave this [report] to the conservatives in this state, they’d shrug and say, ‘That’s not how it is here.’ “
DPF President Mike Farrell, however, says he wasn’t surprised by CCADP’s findings. “The increased support for abolition in conservative circles is the result of a growing understanding that opposition to the death penalty isn’t the ‘left vs. right,’ ‘liberal vs. conservative’ issue it has been made out to be,” he insists. “Concerns about fairness and justice are universal. Questioning government overreach and wasted tax dollars have no political label. No thinking person can abide killing the innocent. Racism injures our entire nation. Any thoughtful analysis demonstrates that the death penalty serves no useful social purpose.”
Even with Donald Trump, a ferocious supporter of the death penalty (even for non-capital cases), at the head of the Republican party, Hyden doesn’t think the rising Republican movement to abolish will recede. “I don’t suspect President Trump’s death penalty views will have any effect on state legislators sponsoring repeal bills,” he says.