A couple of years ago, campaigning with the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, I met Republican State Sen. Kevin Avard, a good man who listened and gave the issue a lot of thought. He then voted with us on a bill to abolish state killing in his state that lost by one vote. To add insult to injury, Sen. Avard lost his seat in the next election. But Rep. Renny Cushing, who sponsored the bill, and the good folks at the NH Coalition never blinked. They understood it was up to the states to lead the way to abolition because, as history shows us, when the states act, the Supreme Court takes notice.
Well, they can take notice now, because the good folks in New Hampshire spoke this week. When their senators overrode Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto on Thursday to repeal the state’s death penalty, their message was clear: “Not in our name.”
With that vote, New Hampshire became the 21st state to abolish the death penalty; the 9th to do so in the last 15 years. And, when you add the four states that have instituted moratoria, it means half the states in our nation have no active death penalty.
We should all take a moment and let that sink in.
The past couple of years have been truly challenging. Many of us have felt the stress and anxiety of living under an administration whose policies run counter to our values and beliefs. At times, it can seem overwhelming, so optimism has been in short supply. But do not despair. In February, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine postponed all scheduled executions because of concerns about his state’s lethal injection protocol, and his legislature is considering a bill to outlaw the death penalty for those with mental illness; in March, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium here in California, and this week, New Hampshire abolished its death penalty.
I have to believe even this Supreme Court is taking notice.
So, I hope all of you will do what we here at Death Penalty Focus are doing: take a minute to savor these victories; realize our efforts do pay off even if, as in New Hampshire, it takes decades, and let this powerful moment strengthen our resolve to end this barbaric, archaic punishment in every state of our union.
(Actor, author, and activist Mike Farrell is the president of Death Penalty Focus.)