Demagoguery vs. Capital Punishment

Article excerpt


The Maryland General Assembly is in session, so it's time for Gov. Martin O'Malley to resume his campaign to abolish capital punishment in the state. The governor's last repeal bill died in 2007 on a 5-5 vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, and it was not even considered last year. But besides the governor, the other usual liberal suspects were rounded up - the editorial boards of The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, and the ACLU - and are demanding abolition. And they are brandishing a study (released in December by a commission headed by Benjamin Civiletti, who served as U.S. attorney general under President Carter), which purported to demonstrate that the death penalty is inherently discriminatory and wrong. So, now, in a wave of sanctimony and self-righteousness, they are pressing Senate President Mike Miller, Calvert Democrat, to get the measure out of Judicial Proceedings.

As General Assembly Democrats go, Mr. Miller is a relative moderate who favors the death penalty. But he's under pressure from the orthodox liberals who dominate the Maryland Democratic Party, and so last week he vowed to oppose a filibuster by death-penalty supporters and said he would not thwart an effort to sidestep the committee if its members reject the governor's repeal efforts. More recently, and strangely, freshman Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel Republican (and a conservative endorsed by this editorial page in his very tight 2006 race) indicated that he too would support moving the measure out of committee in exchange for an agreement by committee Democrats to move forward with legislation that he favors.

But that's logrolling at its worst - a terrible idea.

The flaws of the anti-death penalty arguments are well illustrated by the report issued by Mr. Civiletti's panel, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. In calling for an end to the death penalty, the committee (packed by the governor with a reliably anti-capital punishment majority) argued that there is an unacceptable risk of executing an innocent person. …