Favorite

Death penalty lives 

Barely clinging to its flagging life, the death penalty got a merciful reprieve last month from the unlikeliest quarter, the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Barely clinging to its flagging life, the death penalty got a merciful reprieve last month from the unlikeliest quarter, the Arkansas Supreme Court.

In what one normally indulgent justice called a completely nonsensical decision by his colleagues, the Supreme Court said the legislature, governor and attorney general, eager to start whacking down the list of 34 prisoners waiting to be executed, could simply ignore provisions of the state Constitution that seem to stand in the way of immediate executions.

Although the numbers keep shrinking, capital punishment still has the support of most Arkansans, so the leaders of the executive, legislative and judicial branches are all trying to make it happen again — right away. Mike Huckabee, 11 years ago, was the last governor who had a chance to execute someone. In the preceding 90 years, Arkansas had electrocuted or hung 195 prisoners, 67 percent of them black men who had harmed whites.

Arkansas changed the law in 1983 to kill people sentenced to death in the future with drugs, and Old Sparky, the electric chair, was dismantled. But killing by drugs has become increasingly problematical owing to the gruesome failure of some potions to kill people quickly and relatively painlessly and thus comply with constitutional prohibitions against cruel punishment. Drug manufacturers, loath to have their products used to kill people rather than save them, refused to sell them to governments for executions and required retailers to agree not to sell or give their products to states intending to use them for executions.

Governor Hutchinson and the Republican legislature, with an assist from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, came to the rescue last year with Act 1096, which prevents the state from disclosing the source of the drug cocktail used in executions. That way, a pharmacist or a middleman could violate an agreement with a pharmaceutical company and sell the company's drugs for executions without anyone tracing it. So the law is premised upon a bit of dishonesty and achieves success by keeping the dishonesty secret.

Capital punishment is the law in Arkansas and every poll shows that most voters still favor it, so you can understand how most legislators, the governor and attorney general want to please in spite of their oaths to uphold the state and U.S. constitutions.

But that is not at all the role of the Supreme Court, which has the singular duty to interpret the Constitution fearlessly and to insist that it be followed by the other branches regardless of public feelings. I am not alone in believing that the emerging majority on the court since 2010, when big money entered appellate court races, is not dedicated to that principle.

Condemned prisoners who contested Act 1096 raised a host of issues about its constitutionality, several of which were embraced by the trial judge, Wendell Griffen, all of which were rejected by a slim majority of the justices in an opinion written by Justice Courtney Goodson.

One of those decisions stands out in its absurdity. The prisoners' attorneys claimed that the secrecy provisions of Act 1096 violated Article 19, Section 12, of the Constitution, which says the state must publish the details of every expenditure by every state agency, including the name of the person or company receiving the money and what it was for. The state makes all expenditures public by filing them with the state Finance and Administration Department, where the press or anyone can examine them. The agency makes sure an expenditure complies with appropriations and sends it to the state auditor, who cuts a warrant to the recipient.

Act 1096 says the prison or the administrative agency can hide or disguise the expenditure to thwart any public search for the truth and that no one can force it to be divulged under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Supreme Court majority said the authors of the Constitution didn't really mean what they said. Their theory was that the legislature may some day — next year or the next millennium — decide to make the drug purchase public, so prohibiting its publication now is OK.

Justice Robin Wynne, the newest justice, wrote: "That makes absolutely no sense whatever." The act is clearly unconstitutional, he said.

The next thing you know, the legislature may use the court's precedent to bar publication of other spending details — like the expense accounts of legislators and executive officials like the attorney general. You may remember that searching those spending records brought about the conviction and resignation of the attorney general in 1990 and a court-approved halt to illegal expense vouchers of legislators three years ago.

But what would that matter if we get to kill a half-dozen criminals now? Since the Supreme Court upheld the secrecy law, the prison has laid its hands on an ample supply of killing drugs from an unscrupulous supplier.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of Death Penalty

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
    • Apr 27, 2017
  • Coal is over

    The free market's natural search for cheaper and more efficient energy has taken over and even President Trump and a governing party heavily in denial about climate change cannot stop it.
    • Apr 13, 2017
  • Race to kill

    You wonder if Attorney General Leslie Rutledge would be so eager to execute if her grandpa, Leslie Rutledge, who was imprisoned for killing neighbor Joe Beel and mortally wounding his brother Frank, had been sentenced to death in 1952.
    • Apr 6, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016

Most Shared

  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
  • Former state board of education chair Sam Ledbetter weighs in on Little Rock millage vote

    Ledbetter, the former state Board of Education chair who cast the decisive vote in 2015 to take over the LRSD, writes that Education Commissioner Johnny Key "has shown time and again that he is out of touch with our community and the needs of the district." However, Ledbetter supports the May 9 vote as a positive for the district's students and staff.
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
    • Apr 27, 2017
  • Coal is over

    The free market's natural search for cheaper and more efficient energy has taken over and even President Trump and a governing party heavily in denial about climate change cannot stop it.
    • Apr 13, 2017
  • Race to kill

    You wonder if Attorney General Leslie Rutledge would be so eager to execute if her grandpa, Leslie Rutledge, who was imprisoned for killing neighbor Joe Beel and mortally wounding his brother Frank, had been sentenced to death in 1952.
    • Apr 6, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Arkansas angler and fishing expert Billy Murray shares his extensive knowledge of the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Event Calendar

« »

April

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: O'Reilly's fall

    • O'Reilly should run for president. He's already cleared one major hurdle by proving he's a…

    • on April 27, 2017
  • Re: Intracity tourism

    • I love being a tourist in my own backyard. One of the advantages of being…

    • on April 27, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation