Is the death penalty a dying sentence?
By Nicole C. Brambila, December 13, 2015
It’s been a tough year for the death chamber.
Take Nebraska’s conservative legislature, which defied a governor’s veto
and abolished capital punishment only to have a petition drive later
suspend the ban until a referendum next year. Then there were states,
scrambling to get increasingly scarce lethal injection drugs, illegally
purchasing supplies from overseas that federal agents seized. And in
Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf put a moratorium on executions. The death
penalty grabbed headlines across the nation all year long.
Since capital punishment was reinstated nationally in 1976, Pennsylvania
has executed only three people while hundreds have been sentenced.
Consequently, the commonwealth’s dysfunctional death penalty system has
created a slew of new victims – family members waiting for an execution
that never comes.
With 2015 having seen the fewest executions in nearly a quarter century
amid waning support, even among the staunchest proponents, it begs the
question: Is the death penalty on life support?
“Of course it’s under attack. You’d have to be an idiot not to recognize
that,” said renowned death penalty expert and supporter Robert Blecker, a
New York Law School professor.
Blecker testified this year before the Pennsylvania House Judiciary
Committee in a Harrisburg hearing to examine capital punishment. He told
lawmakers that the nation’s highest court is “itching to dissolve the death
In a recent telephone conversation with the Reading Eagle, he added,
“They’re one vote short in the United States Supreme Court.”
Opponents increasingly talk of bringing a case to the U.S. Supreme Court to
challenge its constitutionality. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer in a June
dissent invited as much.
Court watchers say abolition could be as few as five years away.