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Overcoming Governor's Veto, Rightwing Nebraska Ends Death Penalty

'The tidal wave of abolition is continuing to sweep over the United States, and soon the death penalty will be relegated to the history books where it belongs. Who’s next?'

Jon Queally

Overcoming a veto by Governor Pete Ricketts, the Nebraska legislature on Wednesday voted to abolish the death penalty in the conservative midwestern state.

The move makes Nebraska the 19th in the U.S. to have imposed a ban on the practice, which opponents have long considered cruel and morally repugnant.

"Nebraska’s legislature has bravely stood up for human rights by upholding this bill," said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "As the nation and the world continue to abandon this broken and unjust punishment, it is only a matter of time before the 31 remaining states end the death penalty forever."

According to the Washington Post:

The narrow vote in Lincoln on Wednesday made Nebraska the first state in two years to formally abandon the death penalty, a decision that comes amid a decline in executions and roiling uncertainty regarding how to carry out lethal injections.

Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) had been a vocal critic of the bill before he vetoed it on Tuesday afternoon, calling it “cruel” to the relatives of the victims of people sentenced to death in a letter to the legislature.

The state’s lawmakers voted last week to abolish the death penalty, passing the measure with enough support to override a veto that Ricketts had said was coming.

Nebraska's rejection of capital punishment is particularly striking because the state is known as very conservative and dominated by the Republican Party. As Vox.com notes:

Nebraska's conservative legislators "argued that the death penalty is a wasteful and ineffective government program that costs too much and accomplishes too little," according to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. That's probably correct: because of intense and extended litigation, imposing the death penalty in the US is significantly more expensive than sentencing someone to life without parole.

This argument, along with other criticisms of the death penalty — it's racially biased, doesn't deter crime, and executes a shocking number of innocent people — appears to be carrying the day nationally. By 2012, prosecutors in 60 percent of American counties were no longer seeking to impose the death penalty in any circumstance. In 2014, there were the fewest number of executions in 20 years.

"What has happened in Nebraska is a microcosm of the steady national trend away from the death penalty in the United States," Dunham wrote in a statement. "Public opinion polls show that support for the death penalty is at a 40-year low nationwide."

Death penalty opponents only hope now that others will soon follow.

As Christy Hargesheimer, a Nebraska resident and the death penalty action coordinator for Amnesty, wrote in a blog post, "The tidal wave of abolition is continuing to sweep over the United States, and soon the death penalty will be relegated to the history books where it belongs. Who’s next?"


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