Today was a big day for criminal justice reform in CA. It’s hard to overstate how significant this victory is. 25 folks on death row had exhausted their appeals and were subject to imminent lethal injection. Instead, these two dozen folks will sit on a suspended death row with 700+ other folks. While CA will retain the status as the largest death row in the Western hemisphere, it will no longer be active for at least the next four years.
Legal challenges are surely soon to follow. Newsom’s decision sits at the intersection of the will of the people vs. the executive authority of the constitution. CA voters denied a proposition to abolish the death penalty in 2012 and 2016, while approving a measure to expedite the death penalty in 2016. An initiative is making its way through the CA legislature to land on the 2020 ballot to abolish the death penalty again, but it’s too early to make educated guesses about the odds of approval. With this in mind, today’s decision to suspend the death penalty is only a partial victory. True abolition will have to come at the ballot box.
Capital punishment is the ultimate form of justice the state enacts. CA clings to this notion as a progressive beacon, but this title couldn’t be less appropriate when applied to the criminal justice system. Depending how the ’20 ballot initiative and various lawsuits play out, today could be the beginning of the end for the death penalty in CA.