George Ryan to be Nominated for Nobel Prize

Outgoing Illinois Governor George Ryan will be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. We're thrilled. For the other side and some major grumps about it, see Archpundit and Bloviator.

Ryan was nominated for his "crusade against what is clearly a racist and class-based death penalty system here in Illinois" by Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois law school in Champaign. Since Illinois resumed capital punishment in 1977, 12 people have been executed and 13 other death sentences were overturned. In the 13 cases, evidence showed some of the defendants were innocent; in others, courts ruled that they received unfair trials. Ryan declared a moratorium in 2000 and appointed a commission to study the system, report on what went wrong and make recommendations to restore fairness to the system.

We agree with Boyle that the the "licenses-for-bribes scandal" in Ryan's former secretary of state's office is irrelevant. According to the Nobel Prize website, the prize is awarded to "those who, during the preceding year, "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind." Law professors are among those who can submit nominations.

Boyle and others who favor Ryan as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate have organized a campaign, including a web site which details the national and international support for Ryan's nomination. For example, this comes from Sissel Egeland in Norway:
"The moratorium has inspired Americans to end the inhuman death penalty system and to join the rest of the world in the care for human rights and justice. A nomination of Governor Ryan for the Nobel Peace Prize will send an important message to the international society that the use of the death penalty shall now be ancient history and unite Europeans and courageous Americans to stand up for ethics and human rights in all international relations."
Professor Boyle noted in the news article above that the "Nobel Peace Prizes generally are given to send a message to a target audience," Boyle said. "We think that giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Governor Ryan would send a very strong message here to the United States of America that the death penalty has to go." We agree.

Regardless of your views about the death penalty, surely we can all agree that its imposition should be fair, just and accurate. It isn't. It isn't fair--it is often imposed in a racially disparate manner or after trials at which unreliable evidence such as false confessions and erroneous eyewitness evidence was presented or at which defendants were represented by grossly incompetent lawyers who failed to protect their rights and secure them a fair trial. It isn't just--we still allow the excecution of the mentally ill and juvenile offenders. It isn't accurate--Since 1973, when the death penalty was reinstated, and August of 2002, 102 inmates in 25 states have been exonerated and released from death row. The average time between being sentenced to death and exoneration has been 8 years.

Fixing the broken death penalty system in the United States (not just Illinois) requires a nationwide commitment. The Innocence Protection Act is a good beginning, but despite over 250 bipartisan sponsors in Congress, a few ultra-right wing Republicans are holding it hostage and refusing to allow its passage.

The findings of the Illinois commission on Capital Punishment, initiated by Governor Ryan in response to the glaring inaccuracies in that state's capital punishment system, provide a well-researched guide for reforms. You can read the report and its 85 proposed recommendations here. The Illinois state legislature has adopted none of the reforms. Blanket clemency is the only fair result. Don't blame the inmates, blame the legislature for refusing to fix a broken system that results in innocent people being sent to death row.

George Ryan is a courageous hero--those who cynically accuse him of grandstanding on the innocence issue to deflect from the license scandal occurring on his watch most likely never have heard him speak in person. We have. We believe his commitment to fixing the broken system in Illinois is genuine and heartfelt--it has altered his life and his beliefs. Remember, Ryan supports the death penalty. His crusade is to make it fairer in its application and to protect the innocent. We doubt Ryan will grant clemency (life sentences) to all on death row in Illinois. We think he should. But even if he only grants clemency to some, he will still have done more for humanity and more in spreading the message this year than anyone else.

For more on the work of the Illinois Commission, we recommend this article by one of its participants. For reasons why blanket clemency would be legally sound, read this letter written by 438 legal scholars.

As Rob Warden, Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University said not long ago, "On trial are not just the people convicted of the murders, but the criminal justice system itself. Beyond the question of guilt or innocence, of course, is the question of proportionality and fairness of the sentencing process."

There will be a Press Conference at the Illinois State Capitol Press Room on Monday, January 6, 2003, at 1 P.M. to announce the Nobel Peace Prize Nomination and Campaign for Governor Ryan. Springfield is the Capital of the State of Illinois.

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