Though it was buried in yet another frantic news day, on Monday the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to resume federal executions by letting stand an appeals court ruling allowing the same. After a 17-year pause, the 60 prisoners on federal death row will now face new execution dates.
It was Attorney General William Barr, of course, who had indicated that his department would be lifting the hiatus. The death penalty remains a staple of “tough on crime” conservatism despite both the cost and ineffectiveness as deterrent; surely, there is no political stance quite as manly as demanding the death of criminals.
The details of the challenges now swept aside by the Supreme Court deal with the method of execution. The letter of the law requires federal executions to be conducted according to the laws of the state the sentencing took place in, but in multiple states execution by lethal injection, the most popular method, has been put on hold because drug companies have refused to allow states to purchase their products for the purpose of killing people. (Bad publicity.) Barr instead announced that the federal government would be using a different drug, pentobarbital, regardless of state protocols. An appeals court and the Supreme Court have now green-lit that approach.
Barr’s eagerness to resume state-sponsored killings is unsurprising, given his conservatism, his well-known religious fervor, and his seeming obsession with the same tenets of authoritarian rule that have governed all other dealings. It is likely he wants to be able to execute people before the November elections, to give “tough on crime” conservatives a little pick-me-up helping to justify reelecting a “delusional” idiot manchild. (Spare me the faux outrage, every conservative “pundit.” Any claim that Barr is handling his office in an apolitical fashion is at this point so absurd that it would require hosing down your pants before saying it, just to avoid the subsequent severe burns.)
I will again mention as an aside here that I am not a death penalty abolitionist. On the contrary, I simply think it should be applied, if we are to use it at all, in the deterrent manner it is intended. The death penalty has been proven to be ineffective at deterring violent crime because those human beings so broken as to commit such violence are almost by definition too broken to consider the consequences. Imposing the death penalty on fabulously wealthy corporate executives who willingly harm Americans by illegally dumping toxins, shunning safety precautions or paying bribes to officials willing to overlook public dangers, though—you never know. People with yachts might think harder about killing off their fellow citizens in large numbers if killing 1,000 people through premeditated system sabotage was treated as the “irredeemable” crime it would seem to be.
A murderer who acts in a fit of blind rage might someday regret their actions. A murderer who poisons a hundred children idly, by the pool, for a slight bit more profit than they would otherwise gain would seem to possess a mind too diseased to ever be reformed. Perhaps we should give injection equality a try, and see if Barr’s methods might work more effectively on the socioeconomic group he does not intend to aim at?
Or not. The United States has an obsession with “just” violence that permeates every aspect of society, at present. Police are allowed to kill with impunity because they “need” that right. The military is used to “pacify” countries that pose no threat to the United States, but who have strayed down political paths and have regional powers that irritate us. Gun hoarders give lurid explanations of the various circumstances that would justify killing a neighbor, a stranger, an officer or a congressman—they have those scenarios laid out in detail, ready for anyone who asks. Militias practice. Movie posters and plots use pistols and rifles and explosions as visual shorthand for alpha male. Law-and-order suburbanites and delusional presidents demand violence against those that would deface bronze statues, because we cannot become a country that would tolerate that.
It seems we will be having this discussion for a long, long time. Hopefully we will soon be at least able to have it without William Barr crashing about, pressing on whatever levers of authoritarian power he himself finds most pleasing.
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