Feingold : Alito's Death Penalty Responses 'Chilling'

Sen. Russ Feingold today issued a statement explaining his reasons for voting against Judge Sam Alito. Among them (no link yet, received by e-mail:)

To be blunt, Mr. Chairman, I found Judge Alito's answers to questions about the death penalty to be chilling. He focused almost entirely on procedures and deference to state courts, and didn't appear to recognize the extremely weighty constitutional and legal rights involved in any case where a person's life is at stake.

I was particularly troubled by his refusal to say that an individual who went through a procedurally perfect trial, but was later proven innocent, had a constitutional right not to be executed. The Constitution states that no one in this country will be deprived of life without due process of law. It is hard to even imagine how any process that would allow the execution of someone who is known to be innocent could satisfy that requirement of our Bill of Rights. I pressed Judge Alito on this topic but rather than answering the question directly or acknowledging how horrific the idea of executing an innocent person is, or even pointing to the House v. Bell case currently pending in the Supreme Court on a related issue, Judge Alito mechanically laid out the procedures a person would have to follow in state and federal court to raise an innocence claim, and the procedural barriers the person would have to surmount.

Judge Alito's record and response suggest that he analyzes death penalty appeals as a series of procedural hurdles that inmates must overcome, rather than as a critical backstop to prevent grave miscarriages of justice. The Supreme Court plays a very unique role in death penalty cases, and Judge Alito left me with no assurance that he would be able to review these cases without a weight on the scale in favor of the government.

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    To quote prof Althouse, a rabid right-wing Republican, "When did Alito refuse to address a situation where a person was proven innocent? When did Alito say that it's constitutionally acceptable to execute a man we KNOW is innocent? Where did he endorse the "horrific the idea of executing an innocent person"? It didn't happen! True, Alito emphasized the procedures that are required before a man can be executed, but he was never asked what would happen if we actually knew a man was innocent and yet the governor refused to pardon him. At that point would there be a right of action in federal court? Alito was not asked. To assert that he refused to address that situation is plainly unfair. It is demogogery of the sort I believed Feingold was above." Jimbo

    This is the exchange with Feingold during the hearings:
    FEINGOLD: My question assumes that all that's been done and the process went through and there's no legal or constitutional or procedural problems, but evidence suddenly proves that the person convicted was unquestionably innocent. The question is: Does that person in that posture have a constitutional right not to be executed? ALITO: Well, then the person would have to, as I said, file a petition. And if it was an initial petition, it would fall into one category. If it was a second or a successive petition, it would fall into another category and the person would have to satisfy the requirements the Congress has set out for filing a second or successive petition. FEINGOLD: You can't say that the person has a constitutional right not to be executed? ALITO: Well, I have to know the specific facts of the case and the way it works its way through the legal system. The rules here are complicated. A person has a right. It is one of the most fundamental rights that anybody has. It is a fundamental right and a fundamental objective of our judicial system that nobody is to be convicted without proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And if there's evidence that the person is not guilty of the offense, then that gets to the very heart of what our whole system of criminal justice is designed to address.
    It kind of reminded me of Deukakis' response to the question about how he'd feel about the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered. Technically, nothing really wrong with what he said... yet something is missing. It's all procedure and technicalities and governance and who-reviews-what-first... Where's the sense of justice? The fundamental moral compass? I saw a very smart man in those hearings, but smart isn't enough.

    Re: Feingold : Alito's Death Penalty Responses 'Ch (none / 0) (#3)
    by rMatey on Thu Jan 26, 2006 at 03:34:37 PM EST
    Or it could be that they might be poor, black or democratic.

    Relevant given someone was just executed with three justices supporting a stay.