The PJ Tatler

Conservative Nebraska Could Dump Death Penalty

Nebraska might be the last place you would expect to overturn the death penalty. A highly conservative state where Republicans dominate, Nebraska may nonetheless join a growing list of states which have abandoned capital punishment.

The trend has emerged from a shift in the application of philosophical principles. An increasing number of conservatives have come to regard capital punishment as antithetical to their vision for government. From the New York Times:

Sen. Colby Coash, a conservative who is a sponsor of the bill [to eliminate the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment], said he had come to believe that opposing capital punishment aligned with his values as a Republican and a Christian conservative.

“I’m a conservative guy — I’ve been a Republican my whole life,” he said. “… Some people see this as a pro-life issue. Other people see it as a good-government issue. But the support that this bill is getting from conservative members is evidence that you can get justice through eliminating the death penalty, and you can get efficient government through eliminating the death penalty.”

The point about efficiency seems to get much traction these days. The cost of running a death row convict through an appeals process is cited as wasteful. Procuring the drugs necessary for lethal injection is considered difficult.

This new way of thinking about the death penalty reflects a larger flaw in modern conservative/libertarian thinking, which emphasizes the size and cost of government without regard to its purpose.  But we can’t talk about government waste outside the context of government’s purpose. First, we must determine what government is for. Only then can we evaluate whether its cost and scope proves excessive.

We have government to protect individual rights and administer justice. That is its end. Whatever cost that purpose requires, we should pay it. Whatever size government needs to maintain liberty, we should happily sustain it.

Opposition to the death penalty is not pro-life. One does not support life by tolerating its degradation and destruction. Rather, it’s the death penalty that’s pro-life. The death penalty affirms the value of life by eliminating those who show no regard for it. Opposing the death penalty conveys a lower regard for the value of life, a tolerance of unmitigated evil. There’s nothing conservative about that.

It’s one thing to take an abstract stance against the death penalty in a hypothetical laboratory. However, as the recent death sentence doled out to the Boston Marathon bomber in liberal Massachusetts indicates, the appropriateness of executing heinous murderers becomes clear when you see one.