Nebraska Abolishes the Death Penalty

One of the nation’s most conservative states, Nebraska, abolished the death penalty earlier today. Nebraska legislators had just enough votes to override Republican Governor Pete Ricketts’ veto.

This is a tremendous win for advocates of a whole life approach—those who are looking to broaden the pro-life movement’s commitment to human life and dignity—as well as all other opponents of the death penalty. It is also a big win for the Catholic Church, as Nebraska’s bishops took a strong stand against the death penalty during this debate, saying:

We are also disturbed that since 1973, 143 individuals in the U.S. have been released from death row as the result of evidence that demonstrated they were wrongly convicted. As technology improves, this may become more commonplace. We also know that racial minorities and the poor are disproportionately sentenced to death, often as a consequence of racial bias or inadequate defense due to an ability to pay for better representation. We are deeply troubled by a justice system in which the innocent might be executed, and in which race, education, and economics might play a factor in a death sentence.

The death penalty is not necessary in Nebraska. The purposes of a criminal justice system are rehabilitation, deterrence, public safety, and the restoration of justice. The death penalty does not provide rehabilitation to convicted criminals. There is no clear evidence that executions deter crime. Public safety can be assured through other means. And justice requires punishment, but it does not require that those who have committed capital crimes be put to death.

Nebraska is the 7th state since 2007 to abolish the death penalty. More and more people seem to be drawing the conclusion that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent, that it is arbitrarily and capriciously applied, extraordinarily expensive, unfairly applied across demographic lines, prone to gruesome mistakes, and always at risk of being applied to innocent people, among its other flaws. Hopefully other states—red, blue, and purple—follow Nebraska’s lead.