Nebraska Court Bans Electric Chair
Nebraska's Electric Chair
I'm cheering and applauding. Nebraska's Supreme Court has dragged the state kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by forbidding the state, as a matter of State Constitutional Law, from using the electric chair to kill prisoners sentenced to death. Because electrocution was the only means of execution in the Nebraska statute, the state has reluctantly now joined the nationwide de facto stay on state executions.
The New York Times reports:
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment, outlawing the electric chair in the only state that still used it as its sole means of execution.
The state's death penalty remains on the books, but the court said the Legislature must approve another method to use it. The evidence shows that electrocution inflicts ''intense pain and agonizing suffering,'' the court said.
''Condemned prisoners must not be tortured to death, regardless of their crimes,'' Judge William Connolly wrote in the 6-1 opinion.
''Contrary to the State's argument, there is abundant evidence that prisoners sometimes will retain enough brain functioning to consciously suffer the torture high voltage electric current inflicts on a human body,'' Connolly wrote.
The opinion was strong in its disapproval of electrocution. The majority opinion had this gem:
...the high court said electrocution ''has proven itself to be a dinosaur more befitting the laboratory of Baron Frankenstein'' than a state prison.
The decision was 6-1. The dissenting judge, Chief Justice Mike Heavican, argued that he didn't think electrocution was cruel and unusual, and that he believed federal courts could take the case because, he said, the majority's stated reliance on Nebraska's constitution was misleading because the court actually based its decision on federal precedent.
Responding to the decision, Governor Dave Heineman (R) expressed his "outrage":
''I am appalled by the Nebraska Supreme Court's decision,'' Heineman said in a statement. ''Once again, this activist court has ignored its own precedent and the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court to continue its assault on the Nebraska death penalty.''
What a joke. The Nebraska Supreme Court is an "activist court"? Does the Gov pay any attention to those "strict constructionists," those "originalists" in DC? Give me a break. The Rethuglican rule of judicial criticism: if you win, they're "strict constructionists"; but if you lose, then they're "judicial activists." What a crock.
The Governor's spokesperson threatened that there would be a special legislative session to enact a new penalty provision. Evidently, Nebraskans cannot live for even a few months without having their finger on the
I have no idea why Nebraska cannot just sit it out for a little while. I guess when the Governor says he's appalled you have to drop everything else and restore people killing. After all, WWJD?
I detest state killing. I want to see the death penalty abolished for all crimes in my lifetime. I want the United States as a whole to renounce barbarianism and to join the community of nations and the consensus that state killing is wrong. And the Nebraska Supreme Court's decision is a small step in that direction. It is absolutely a recognition that standards of cruel and inhuman treatment are evolving over time and that the barbarities of the past can no longer be countenanced. Every single judicial decision that blocks state killing is a victory on the road to abolition of the death penalty.
So I cheer this decision. And I invite you to cheer and applaud it with me.