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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Nan Aron: It’s time to stop tinkering with the machinery of death

Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron was among the speakers today at the launch of 90 Million Strong, a new campaign to abolish the death penalty.  She spoke at a news conference at the National Press Club.  These are her prepared remarks:

My name is Nan Aron.  I am President of Alliance for Justice. On behalf of the more than 100 groups that make up the Alliance, I would like to thank the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for organizing this campaign and this event and for inviting us to participate.
AFJ works to promote a fair and independent judiciary.  There can be no clearer reminder of the importance of who sits on our courts than that these jurists are called upon to make life and death decisions.  For decades the Supreme Court has tried to reconcile state-sanctioned killing with the Constitution of the United States.  That cannot be done.
Justice William Brennan wrote that
“moral concepts” require us to hold that the law has progressed to the point where we should declare that the punishment of death, like punishments on the rack, the screw, and the wheel, is no longer morally tolerable in our civilized society.  
Justice Thurgood Marshall, who believed most Americans were uninformed about the death penalty, wrote that
Assuming knowledge of all the facts presently available regarding capital punishment, the average citizen would, in my opinion, find it shocking to his conscience and sense of justice.
But today, instead of a Brennan or a Marshall, the life of an accused might be in the hands of a judge like Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Jones has said that capital defendants’ claims of racism, arbitrariness and even claims of innocence are nothing more than – her words – red herrings.
She also has declared that,
a killer is only likely to make peace with God and the victim’s family in that moment when the killer faces imminent execution, recognizing that he or she is about to face imminent judgment.          
I don’t know how one makes peace with upholding the execution of someone who may be innocent.  And I don’t know how one makes peace with using the mechanism of the state to punish people by taking their lives.
Justice Harry Blackmun struggled with the death penalty.  At first, he thought there might be some way to reconcile it with the Constitution.  But in 1994, he wrote:
“I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. …”
Declared Blackmun: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”
Alliance for Justice agrees: It is time to stop tinkering with the machinery of death.
We look forward to the day when we have a Supreme Court that will rule, once and for all, that the death penalty is unconstitutional.
We look forward to being a part of the 90 Million Strong campaign, and mobilizing our more than 100 members to act on this vital issue.

Thank you.

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