Straight Talk about the Death Penalty

If only all Americans, including our elected representatives and our justices, thought like Justice William Connolly of the Nebraska Supreme Court. Writing for a 6-1 majority in a death penalty appeal that claimed execution by electric chair to be “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore unconstitutional, Justice Connolly wrote:

We recognize the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made an innocent victim suffer. But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it. Condemned prisoners must not be tortured to death, regardless of their crimes.

“Punish cruelty without practicing it.” Seems like that ought to be a pretty self-evident truth. But a lot of people – including a lot of people in power – aren’t interested in a civilized society. Or else their definition of a civilized society isn’t the same as mine, or Justice Connolly’s. In my civilized society, we don’t torture, whether we’re interrogating or executing. Whether the death penalty in any form is “cruel and unusual” is another question. But you only have to watch an electrocution to know that while it may be relatively quick (assuming all goes well), it’s a form of torture and shouldn’t be used. I hope the strong majority in this 6-1 decision resonates beyond Nebraska.

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