Tuesday, June 19

Aaron Julian: Californians must challenge ideological inconsistency shown in Prop. 66

The California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972, although that decision was later overturned. California voters had a chance to ban the death penalty last year, but they instead voted to hasten the process. (Creative Commons photo by Coolcaesar via Wikimedia Commons)

The California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972, although that decision was later overturned. California voters had a chance to ban the death penalty last year, but they instead voted to hasten the process. (Creative Commons photo by Coolcaesar via Wikimedia Commons)

California, a blue state that leads by example on most progressive policies, went red this past election cycle on an important issue.

Somehow, the values of the Democratic Party and progressives alike proved baseless when the liberal populace of California voted not only to keep the death penalty via Proposition 66, but also chose to shorten the length of the appeals process from what could be decades to only a few years.

Since the election of President-elect Donald Trump, the people and state government California positioned themselves as the liberal bastion against the firebrand leader of the most Republican federal government in decades.

The crux of the liberal argument against the Trump brand of conservatism is that it obstructs and at best disregards the movement to rectify inequalities of opportunity and treatment faced by marginalized communities.

Since Proposition 66 is now law, it is the duty of all Californians and college students at the forefront of change who are concerned about human and civil rights to do what they can to continue the opposition that the California Supreme Court has started. Significant change can occur if you take a couple of minutes to call and email state representatives in order to use their Democratic supermajority to stem the growth of this ineffective practice, and support a new ballot measure to end the death penalty when it inevitably comes back up for a vote.


[Related: Propositions 62, 66 take opposing approaches to California’s death penalty]

The data on the death penalty is clear – it costs the state tens of millions of dollars and it fails to deter crime. Not only that, there is a study pointing toward 4 percent of all of the prisoners condemned to death as being innocent. California itself has exonerated death row inmates many years after the original sentencing. There is also a significant disparity in how this sentence is given out. Factors such as access to a proper legal defense and the racial identities of both the victim and the defendant play a meaningful role in the odds of an accused criminal of receiving the greatest penalty under law.

Traditionally, defenders of capital punishment argue that the practice provides the family of the victims with closure while deterring crime. Of course, in their shoes vengeance seems only fair, but it provides little to no practical benefit in the long run. And this is the reason why the United States legal system is so successful: It separates the animalistic reactions from the reason necessary to do what’s best constitutionally, ethically and reasonably.

The revenge dealt out is also inconsistent. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on Furman v. Georgia, “the Eighth and Fourteenth cannot tolerate … this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed.”

For perspective on California and the capital punishment, in 1972, the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional only to have the state legislature override Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto against reinstating the death penalty in special circumstances in 1977. There are now 39 total death-eligible crimes. At 700 condemned inmates, California stands with the most populous death row in America.

In the most recent 2016 election ballots, Proposition 62 and 66 were up for a vote. These respective measures would outlaw the death penalty or expedite the process of appeals. Since both fundamentally oppose each other, the measure with the most votes passes. Proposition 62 received 5,352,985, or 46.4 percent yes votes, while Proposition 66 received 5,690,923, or 51.3 percent yes votes. 13.7 million Californians voted for a presidential candidate, with 8,753,788 going for the Democratic Party. Following the assumptions that every ballot cast included a vote for president and that everyone who voted Republican followed party lines and voted for Proposition 66, hundreds of thousands of progressives voted yes to 66 and over one million abstained entirely from the measure.

[Related: California voters have a chance to kill the death penalty]

Now that we must wait two more years before we have any capacity to change the makeup of the federal government and the president-elect, whose views are openly hostile toward this state’s cherished values, it is imperative to reflect on our values in response to Trump’s. Given its disparaging effects on both the state’s budget and its citizens, liberal and progressive students who decided to vote in favor of or chose to abstain when it came time to vote on the state of the death penalty must rethink their position.

There is a way to govern society in a way where we use data, science and our basic understanding of the natural rights and limits of the law to achieve blind and fair justice. More should and must be done to make sure an innocent person is never put to death by the state, and as it stands there is now an even greater chance of that occurring. This measure is about basic human and civil rights. How can California oppose Trump with this injustice that reflects the current policies of Texas?

The recent protesting and riots in California over the election show estrangement from this state’s beliefs and those of the upcoming commander in chief. There is much to be fought for on the national level and all that is good, but as Voltaire proclaimed, “let us cultivate our garden.” In other words, Californians must address their inconsistencies of policy before properly presenting themselves as a liberal role model to be followed.

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