As Nebraska Goes, So Goes….

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Nebraska has long been distinctive in the world of capital punishment as the only state to rely exclusively on electrocution as its method of execution. A couple of days ago it became distinctive in another way when the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the state could no longer use electrocution (pdf of the opinion). The court held that death by electricity is cruel and unusual punishment. In a remarkable opinion the court did what courts have generally been reluctant to do, namely invalidate particular modes of execution. The opinion is remarkable because the Nebraska Court  presents a detailed, alomst gruesome, portrait of electrocution and its effects on the body of the condemned.  This is yet another significant milestone on the road to abolition.

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8 Responses to As Nebraska Goes, So Goes….

  1. laurabethnielsen says:

    So I am obviously glad that no one else will be killed by being electrocuted. It is barbaric and wrong in every possible way.

    But, do you think it really helps re: abolition? Here is my evidence: So we read chapter 8 of When the State Kills in my undergrad class a couple of weeks back and then we watched clips of various films — Green Mile being one. This idea always comes up when I teach this unit that, ‘we don’t do it that way anymore” – Does civilizing the appearance/process actually work to normalize the practice?

    All this recent interest in if lethal injection is painful is good, but still, it looks so “easy” or at least the sanitized versions we see make it seem so easy.

    Please note: this is not an argument for lethal injection — I find it fascinating that we don’t even put out pets to sleep using this process because the SPCA thought it was too horrible for animals now we wait for the supreme court to tell us if it is constitutional.

  2. nobamakoolaid says:

    I understand your concern about sanitizing such a heinous punishment, but I do believe that this is just another in a long line of dominoes that will keep falling until the death penalty is gone. I too oppose it in all circumstances, LB, but perhaps for a slightly different reason. I just do not see how selective enforcement of the death penalty can ever be anything but arbitrary; there is no remedy to that problem in our system. Therefore, it needs to go – period. People who commit terrible crimes will still die in jail. But back to Nebraska; a bill to abolish the death penalty barely died last March in their unicameral legislature by a vote of 25-24. The sponsor promised to introduce it again this year. I believe the Nebraska Supremes are just reflecting a general attitude in the state. One right-to-life legislator in NE actually acknowledged that in order for him to be consistent, he should oppose capital punishment. You never hear right-wingers say that, despite the obvious logic train that leads to that conclusion. If this reddest of red states can change, I for one am optimistic that this issue will come to a successful conclusion within the next decade.

  3. adsarat says:

    What is clear is that the death penalty system is springing leaks, breaking down in many different ways and places. Substituting lethal injection might sanitize DP, but even there there are problems. What happened in Nebraska is just another sign of doubt, breakdown. Proponents of the DP are now on the defensive!

  4. lbsmom says:

    Picture this—a 19 year old college woman living in dorm one block away from the penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, where Ol’ Sparky was frequently used. She’s up late studying, & it’s a few seconds past midnight when the lights flicker for several seconds, & she knows another person was just executed. Executions dates were not so public back then as they are now, so we usually didn’t know ahead of time about scheduled executions. Sleep was impossible after those lights flickered. The prison proudly gave tours & let people sit in the electric chair. The death penalty causes suffering & shame then & now, even for those a block away. I will never forget.

  5. laurabethnielsen says:

    I tell that story every time I teach it, Mom. It is so gross. Poor you. It would have made me crazy/crazier than I already am.

  6. dspett says:

    Do these sorts of court rulings engender any kind of backlash among the public?

  7. adsarat says:

    Good question on backlash….There is no evidence of it. The anti-death penalty movement has in some ways copied the anti-abortion movement. Rather than attack the death penalty per se through a court challenge, the challenges have been more incremental, going after the juvenile death penalty, the execution of the mentally retarded, particular methods of execution…these are not the kind of issues that typically excite the public. If the Supreme Court were to declare the death penalty unconstitutional that would be a different story. But it does not look like we’ll have to worry about that for a long time.

  8. adsarat says:

    Good question on backlash….There is no evidence of it. The anti-death penalty movement has in some ways copied the anti-abortion movement. Rather than attack the death penalty per se through a court challenge, the challenges have been more incremental, going after the juvenile death penalty, the execution of the mentally retarded, particular methods of execution…these are not the kind of issues that typically excite the public. If the Supreme Court were to declare the death penalty unconstitutional that would be a different story. But it does not look like we’ll have to worry about that for a long time.

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