In the last few days, we’ve made a huge effort to circulate a petition to Governor Brown and Attorney General Harris, asking them not to appeal District Court Judge Carney’s decision that the death penalty in California is unconstitutional. We’ve just hit 500 signatures, and I’ve sent the petition to the Governor and the AG. Thank you for your support, signing, and sharing!
What happens next?
Our elected officials decide whether they want to pursue an appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
What if California appeals the decision?
Then, we’ll have to take our chances with the Ninth Circuit. The hope is that we’ll draw a favorable panel, who will affirm Judge Carney’s decision. It’s possible, albeit not very probable. Regardless of the result, a further appeal to the Supreme Court is unlikely to yield a good result for abolitionists.
The best of all worlds would be a decision from the Ninth Circuit affirming the death penalty’s unconstitutionality, and THEN a commitment from the Attorney General that she would not appeal the decision. If that is the case, the decision will apply to all of CA, and would basically mean that the death penalty has been abolished. But for that to happen we have to be lucky twice: the Ninth Circuit has to go our way and the AG has to decide not to appeal that decision. That’s quite a gamble.
What if our elected officials hear our plea and do not appeal the decision?
In that case, we’re left with a great, favorable decision, but by a District Court, which means it doesn’t create immediate effect in all of California. But we also gain an important political advantage: we have a great decision, that became final, AND the political gravitas of the AG’s support for the result. That, then, allows us to consider political pressure on the Governor’s office to commute current capital sentences, which do not conform to constitutional standards, as well as a valuable weapon against various proposals to “fix” the death penalty.
What are the odds that there will be an appeal?
Hard to tell. As you may recall, last time the State did not defend its laws in federal court was in the context of Prop 8, and the initiators of the proposition were ruled by the Supreme Court not to have standing. What this means is that if the AG does not want to defend CA’s death penalty, no one else can do so in her stead.
There is, however, a difference: Prop 8 was a voter initiative, and so the AG could more easily disengage from it by not appealing. Even though the AG is, personally, an opponent of the death penalty, she may think that solid administrative principles require seeing this thing to its end. And maybe she, too, is hoping that if she appeals the decision, the Ninth Circuit will rise to the occasion and decide the case for abolition.
In other words, your guess is as good as mine.
What can we do now?
Keep talking about this with friends of all political persuasions. Talk about the botched execution in Arizona; talk about the immense toll that incarcerating these folks and tending to their litigation effort is taking on the CA budget (to the tune of $150 million annually.) Talk about how we can see abolition in our lifetime, if we run with this ruling and make the most of this opportunity to drag our penal system to the 21st century.