Judge Encourages Catholics to Oppose Death Penalty

Fifth Circuit Judge Carolyn Dineen King addressed an audience attending a Red Mass in Corpus Christi. After taking care to disavow the influence of her religious beliefs upon her judicial decision-making, Judge King chided the Catholic Church for its belated recognition that capital punishment is morally wrong:

When I asked one of my friends, who is a professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, about [the church's silence in the death penalty debate prior to 1995], he said that in view of the Church's rather speckled history, one could understand why the Church might not be out front on this issue. Well, I can't understand it. Redemption is possible, even for the Catholic Church.

Judge King used the occasion to criticize the Supreme Court's death penalty jurisprudence:

From an inauspicious beginning in which the Court was unable to come up with a majority opinion, the Supreme Court has struggled, using the common law method of case-by-case adjudication, to define and develop a coherent body of capital sentencing law that will permit the death penalty to be exacted. There is no question that the body of law that has evolved over so many years is more enlightened and presents less risk of the arbitrary and capricious assessment of the death penalty than the law that obtained before 1972. But the attendant costs have been dreadful.

The time and expense involved in implementing an execution is an obvious cost, as is the risk of killing the innocent. Judge King adds a more subtle argument to the mix:

Too, the injustice of executing capital defendants under laws that were for so many years undeveloped and in flux is troubling. Think about it. My court's opinion in Graham, which unacceptably narrowed Penry's requirement of giving the jury a vehicle, a special issue, by which it could express its judgment about the defendant's moral culpability, was on the books for twelve years before the Supreme Court struck it down. During those twelve years, many defendants were executed without the constitutionally-required judgment by the jury on whether the defendant was sufficiently morally culpable to be sentenced to death. That is not to say that those defendants were innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. But it could certainly lead one to ask why, if the jury's judgment about moral culpability was constitutionally required, so many went to their deaths without it.

Judge King encouraged Catholics to take political action against the death penalty.

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    Judge King makes another valid point (none / 0) (#1)
    by HK on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 12:31:10 PM EST
    I agree with what Judge King says and as a former Catholic, I know the frustration she is feeling with a body of people who are seemingly only just fully standing by their pro-life beliefs in extending the ground they cover to the death penalty debate.

    For me, though, another perhaps more interesting point is raised towards the end of her speech.  She describes the need for lawmakers to 'lead, not follow.'  While I am a firm believer in democracy, it seems to me that there are some issues that should not be decided by the electorate.  The death penalty is one of those issues.

    I am fully aware of what a sensitve subject this is, but I feel that lawmakers should not be saying 'What do you want?' to people.  They should be looking at the facts objectively, analysing the information and collecting and examining all available data.  The ordinary person is not necessarily inclined to do this and, indeed, should not be expected to.  We elect lawmakers as our representatives.  They do not deserve public coffers for following a majority whim.  Surely any fool can do that!  After seeing that the information points to the death penalty being bad for society in so many ways, they should have the courage to serve the electorate fully by saying 'this is what we have found and we will do what is best for society.'

    I don't feel that this is detrimental to society, or, indeed democracy.  There are many issues on which the electorate is not consulted, issues which are too complex or too sensitive.  We entrust lawmakers to do what is best for society; those who continually support the death penalty are failing.