Nebraska became the first conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty on Wednesday when lawmakers boldly voted 30-19 to override the governor’s veto.
There are 10 inmates on Nebraska’s death row — the 11th died this week — but the state has not executed anyone since 1997 and only recently ordered the drugs necessary to carry out a lethal injection. It’s the 19th state to abolish capital punishment.
Lawmakers across the political spectrum came together to pass a repeal bill three times. Gov. Pete Ricketts, a first-term Republican, then vetoed the legislation on Tuesday. Thirty senators were needed to override him.
Their vote was preceded by hours of debate — with opponents and proponents quoting Bible passages and reading emails from constituents to support their position.
“The death penalty in Nebraska is broken. It’s time to repeal it,” said Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, a Democrat, who voted to end capital punishment.
Sen. Joni Craighead, who backed the death penalty, asked opponents to put themselves in the shoes of murder victims’ families.
“What if someone who you loved dearly was brutally murdered? If you can honestly say in that situation that sure, that murderer can live their life in prison … then you are truly a death penalty opponent. I respect that, but I don’t agree with you.”
Nebraska is the first Republican controlled state in the U.S. to abolish capital punishment since North Dakota did so in 1973.
I’ve “evolved” too. Until a decade ago, I thought the state had a right to determine whether its judicial agents could extirpate me from the act of paying taxes. Part of me still yields to this impulse on occasion, especially when the relatives of victims refuse to distinguish justice from revenge; they often are indistinguishable during prosecution and sentencing. Now I turn to Justice Harry Blackmun’s sigh of a dissent in Callisn v. Collins:
From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years I have endeavored–indeed, I have struggled–along with a majority of this Court, to develop procedural and substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor. Rather than continue to coddle the Court’s delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies