Capital punishment is on its last breath in the U.S. Interestingly enough, it's the GOP that may deliver the final blow.
In six different states this year, Republican lawmakers have introduced bills to repeal the death penalty. This is good news—but the GOP shouldn't stop there. Indeed, taking steps toward eliminating the death penalty nationwide would show a true dedication to limited government principles, and help the party appeal to a more diverse set of voters.
The anti-death penalty wave in the GOP hasn't emerged out of nowhere. Over the past decade, Republican state lawmakers have been introducing more and more death penalty repeals, even though that means going against the opinion of 77 percent of their own party. Unfortunately, support for capital punishment prevailed last week when the Wyoming Senate failed to pass a repeal. But even the fact that the bill passed with ease in the GOP-dominated Wyoming House of Representatives could be a sign of what's to come in the party's national agenda.
Opposition to the death penalty is actually in line with the Republican Party's nature, which is inherently skeptical of big government. In principle, the death penalty is the government's greatest power—control over life and death.
It'll come as no surprise to any small-government conservative that the state does a terrible job of enacting this supposed justice. For one, enforcing the death penalty costs states millions every year. Even worse, innocent Americans are often sentenced to death and in some cases killed. To top it off, three percent of executions are botched in an excruciating process that violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Not only would a firm opposition to the death penalty in the GOP better align with its core philosophy, it would help the party's image with three groups it often fails to resonate with: young people, women, and African Americans. A 2018 Pew Research poll found that 45 percent of woman and 46 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 oppose the death penalty, which is above the nation's average opposition of 39 percent.
And it makes sense that the poll also showed 52 percent of African Americans oppose the death penalty, considering that many studies show racial bias in its enactment nationwide. While roughly half of the murder victims in the U.S. are African American, about 80 percent of those executed are sentenced to death for killing a white victim. At the federal level, 80 percent of submitted cases from 1995 to 2000 for death penalty prosecution involved a black defendant. These trends are consistent from state to state. When the GOP abolishes a government tool that disproportionately affects African Americans, it will send a clear message that Republicans govern for all Americans. The result could be a dent in the Democratic Party's monopoly on black voters.
A GOP working to repeal the death penalty nationwide is a party working to limit big government—while promoting a compassionate conservatism that aims to benefit everyone.
The GOP is already doing much better on this front. Last year, the Republican-led Senate passed criminal justice reform via the First Step Act — a shift away from the party's long-held "tough on crime" mentality, and a pleasant surprise for the ideologically diverse set of activists who had been working to rollback the overreaches of our nation's criminal justice system. The GOP has typically been the face of death penalty support in modern day politics, but it's clear that many in the party are ready to alter its criminal justice platform for the better when new developments call old ideas into question.
A GOP working to repeal the death penalty nationwide is a party working to limit big government—while promoting a compassionate conservatism that aims to benefit everyone. Republican lawmakers have already begun this process, but their ideas have yet to become mainstream in the GOP. For the future of the party, but more importantly, for the future of America, let's hope that opponents of the death penalty win the GOP's internal battle so our country can better respect the value of human life.