Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 14, 2003
LAW: FIAT IN ILLINOIS
I go back and forth on the death penalty. I'm 100% certain that it's morally appropriate to put terrorists to death; that's really no different in my mind from killing soldiers as they invade your shores. The nature of terrorism, moreover, is such that a terrorist remains a threat even in prison: a threat of becoming a cause celebre. a threat of indoctrinating others, etc. Plus, terrorists are notoriously hard to deter; any weapon at hand must be considered. There may be cases where it's more prudent not to execute terrorists, but as long as we are agreed that the only question is what is prudent in our own best interests, we're on the same page.
Beyond terrorism, I have my doubts, mostly about the point at which it becomes impossible to reconcile being pro-death penalty and being a pro-life Catholic. And clearly, the situation in Illinois suggests that the criminal justice system there may have had more than its fair share of flaws. But one thing remains true: the more I see and hear from opponents of the death penalty, the more I tend to support its continuation.
Outgoing Illinois Governor George Ryan has commuted the sentences of everyone on death row, more than 160 people, mostly murderers. I haven't followed the individual cases, but apparently Governor Ryan hasn't either; he just decided that the Illinois justice system was so broken that no death sentence could be trusted. Convictions, yes; not death sentences. Many of those spared were people about whom there was no doubt as to their guilt; if there were some cases of wrongful convictions, however, their bids for release from life in prison fell on deaf ears.
There are a lot of arguments out there, but I can't get past this one question: if George Ryan really didn't have the time or the moral courage to face up to the individual cases and decide between those that deserved clemency and those that should go the way the jury sent them, he had a simple option: just focus on the most obvious abuses, and let his democratically elected successor - Rod Blagojeoveohcihsch - handle the rest. Executions aren't being carried out; there was no urgency to the matter. The people elected a new governor, and one from the party that is traditionally more skeptical of the death penalty. Why could the people's choice not be trusted with this duty?