Process and methods are important

A big part of my heart was overjoyed by the news that Governor Newsom is putting a moratorium on the death penalty in California and considering commuting the death sentences (but not life imprisonment) of everyone on death row. It is long past due that Californians recognize the futility of the death penalty:

  • It’s extremely expensive, costing an average of $1.1 million at trial and $175k extra a year per inmate for their special treatment (both housing and appeals).
  • In practice very few are executed, only 13 since it was re-instituted in 1976 in California. In that same time, at least 70 died of natural causes, 24 committed suicide, and 6 died of other non-natural causes (drug overdose, murder, etc.). (I say “at least” because the above data is from 2015).
  • There’s no meaningful scientific evidence it is a significant deterrent to committing capital level crimes.
  • Similarly there is no evidence it brings peace to the families of the victims. If anything, the constant appeals and legal wrangling prevent them from moving on with their lives.
  • At the same time, all of these appeals and length legal processes are important and valuable. 5 people in California were convicted and sentence to the death penalty only to later be exonerated. Without those appeals, it would greatly increase the chance that someday an innocent person would be executed.

So, even if one isn’t willing to listen to a moral/religious argument about the sanctity of life, it still seems like there’s a strong argument to say “Why are we doing this? What’s the point?”

So thank God for those who fight against the death penalty. And I am *mostly* thankful for Governor Newsom’s decision.

Why only “mostly”? Because I’m a big believer that the process by which we accomplish things is *EXTREMELY* important. There are so many unintended negative consequences when things are done in under-handed ways or when things are rushed at a faster pace that the public is ready to accept.

Obviously we’ll never know the alternate outcomes, but I think it is possible the civil war could have been avoided and we still could have eradicated slavery in the US by the end of the 19th century. It happened in many other places around the world in that same time without over a half-million lives being lost.

I’m not enough of an expert on the matter to speak intelligently to the specifics of how the civil war could have been avoided. All I know is that the 2nd half of the 19th century saw profound change on the subject throughout the world in countries far and wide, from Brazil, to Cambodia, to the Ottoman Empire, to the Netherlands, to Spain, to Cuba. It’s not unreasonable to think that given more time, the US could have made the transition without resulting to civil war.

Obviously I don’t think the death penalty will result in anything as extreme as a civil war, but I do think it could have notable societal impacts of a negative nature. The simple reality is that both the American and California public are adamantly for the death penalty. In California, propositions to overturn the death penalty have been put before the voters multiple times in the last 20 years and every time they have been soundly rejected.

To make matters worse, Newsom said *NOTHING* in his campaign for governor about this. The only quote that any reporter has dug up was not even from the campaign but 2 years earlier when he was lieutenant governor but advocating for the most recent proposition to overturn the death penalty. To quote from the article:

While campaigning for the death penalty repeal measure in 2016, Newsom told The Modesto Bee editorial board he would “be accountable to the will of the voters” on the death penalty if he became governor.

Update… I found a more complete quote in a video from that same interview:

I have enormous sensitivity and respect for people that disagree. And so my position has always been, if ever I was in a position to actually be accountable… would be accountable to the will of the voters. I would not get my personal opinions in the way of the public’s right to make a determination of where they want to take us (inaudible) the death penalty

I think Newsom had a responsibility to be honest during the governor campaign. He needed to say that if elected he would consider putting a moratorium on the death penalty and commuting the death sentences of everyone on death row. I think this is particularly true considering his quote from 2016 that implies exactly the opposite. Might he have lost because of that? Perhaps. He won by a pretty sizable margin so perhaps not. But this is an issue that gets a lot of people worked up, even a lot of Democrats that voted for him.

But risking losing is exactly why it is what he should have done. The right answer is always to act with integrity and try to convince the opposition of the rightness of your cause. Deception and going back on one’s promises leads to great angst in the population.

I think a great deal of the political angst we see in society today, that has led to the polarization of our country, is due to decades of deceptive and underhanded behavior by politicians and political parties. People are sick of it and running to more and more extreme measures to try and combat it. If we want to fix this, what is most needed is politicians with integrity and honesty. It’s more important than their specific policy positions (within reason).

So, while a big part of me is joyful today, I must admit there is a tinge of fear and disappointment. I’m not sure this was the right way to go about this.


  1. clark schumacher

    Very interesting. Governor Newsom was raised Catholic and attended Santa Clara University; although his opposition to the death penalty probably has little to do with that since he is also pro-abortion. Typical unfortunately of many politicians today who seem to be able to profess a religious belief but not follow it in their actions in government.
    Something I see in a new light since I am reading a book you recommended (Render Unto Caesar). I would send him a copy, it is awesome, but he probably wouldn’t read it or already has and ignores it.
    As to the process, that is a hard one. Does the end justify the means? I would love to see more politicians be upfront and honest about what they would do, but it is also true it would probably keep some from being elected and thus being able to do whatever it is.

  2. kencraw

    I think at the simplest levels, the ends almost *NEVER* justify the means. Ends justifying the means are what result in most of the immoral decisions of the world. Almost all immoral decisions start with some end goal that they perceive to be a good, and then choose to make that end more important than anything that is required to get there.

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