If You Hate Big Government, You Should Oppose the Death Penalty

It’s time for Republicans to kill capital punishment off for good.

From the Postal Service to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the government has proven to be as ineffective as Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy. Conservatives, for the most part, understand the inefficient nature of government, and that’s why they often advocate for free-market policies.

However, there’s one issue where conservatives often give far too much power to the government: capital punishment. Here, many Republicans allow their “tough on crime” mentality to overrule limited government ideals and innate skepticism of state overreach.

There's Nothing "Small Government" about Capital Punishment

This contradiction within the Republican platform, although rarely acknowledged, exposes a weakness in the party’s ideology. If Republicans pride themselves on their limited government philosophy, then why would they grant the government control over life and death?

While many Republicans pride themselves on their unapologetic use of the death penalty, its enactment is both inefficient and ineffective.

Take Texas, for example—arguably the nation’s most conservative state. Ever since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 after the Supreme Court lifted its nationwide suspension, 552 of the 1477 executions in the U.S. have taken place in the Lone Star State. While many Texas Republicans pride themselves on their unapologetic use of the death penalty, its enactment, like most government programs, is both inefficient and ineffective.

In Texas, a death penalty case costs about $2.3 million, which is nearly three times the cost of one prisoner’s 40-year sentence in a single cell with maximum security. And this fiscal irresponsibility is far from a Texas problem. It’s a nationwide phenomenon.

California, arguably the nation’s most liberal state, has spent over $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978 and would save $5 billion over the next 20 years if Governor Jerry Brown commuted all those on death row to life without parole.

Both Cruel and Fallible

Not only is the death penalty wasting taxpayers’ money, but some of that money is used to kill innocent people. We currently know of 160 individuals who were sentenced to death but later exonerated. Another 15 were sentenced to death despite clear evidence pointing to their innocence. There were likely countless other innocents put to death as well, especially prior to 20th-century advances in investigative technology.

Death penalty mishaps don’t stop at the courtroom; the failures continue into the execution room itself, as three percent of execution attempts from 1890 to 2010 were botched. Lethal injection, which has been used in 87 percent of executions since 1976, fails seven percent of the time. The Washington Post detailed the gruesome process of a failed injection in a 2017 article.

One specific story explained how one man’s “head began rocking forward and back,” and his chest “began convulsing up from the table.”

Conservative Minds Are Changing

Conservatives are apparently noticing this inefficiency and cruelty, as studies show a clear trend of Republican legislators and voters who are starting to oppose the death penalty.

From fiscal irresponsibility to wrongful convictions to botched executions, the death penalty is merely another wasteful government effort.

A 2017 report from a group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty noted that  40 Republican lawmakers sponsored a death penalty repeal bill in 2016—10 times the number who did so in 2000. Similarly, a Gallup poll showed a 10 percent decline in Republican support for the death penalty in 2017.  Anti-death penalty conservatives hope to carry this momentum into the state legislatures, where the death penalty continues to be limited and even abolished in some states.

Yet the pro-death penalty crowd still reigns supreme on the right, with the 2016 Republican party platform stating, “we condemn the Supreme Court’s erosion of the right of the people to enact capital punishment in their states.”

But is the judiciary wrong to put restrictions on capital punishment, or even potentially ban it nationwide?

The legal argument in favor of the death penalty relies on how the Founding Fathers referenced capital punishment in the Fifth Amendment. However, the Founders’ intention for the Fifth Amendment was not to grant the government power but to limit it, and the Eighth Amendment states that “cruel and unusual punishments” should not be inflicted upon the public. It’s certainly debatable whether the Founders would favor the way in which capital punishment is utilized today.

From fiscal irresponsibility to wrongful convictions to botched executions, the death penalty is merely another wasteful government effort. It’s time for Republicans to kill capital punishment off for good.

Further Reading

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