A Note on Death Penalty Repeal

Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has vetoed repeal of the state’s death penalty law. As I write, the House will vote on an override in just a few hours. Whether enough votes are there is anyone’s guess. It’s going to be close. The Governor is fighting hard to have his veto sustained.

He considers capital punishment to be a way of supporting law enforcement. As the granddaughter of a cop and the niece of two others, I don’t, but that’s not what this post is about.

It’s odd that in a year when the Governor has promised that he’ll be vetoing all kinds of bills, he’s putting such a high value on vetoing this one. It’s his first veto, and he’s facing a Democratic House and Senate. I have heard from Republican legislators about the pressure being brought to bear by party brass to back up the Governor’s determination to keep the death penalty on the books.

I got a faint whiff of the pressure myself this morning at an informal gathering of political acquaintances. I’m an undeclared voter (that’s Granitespeak for “independent”), but I was admonished by someone who should know better that I had to back the Governor on this one, and tell my reps to do likewise.

A conscience vote was fine when the bill first came through House and Senate, I was told, but that was then and this is now. Now, it’s not a conscience vote. It’s a matter of supporting the Governor. The Dems are doing this on purpose, timing this, trying to make him look bad.

The Governor, by the way, touted a 64% approval rating in April, making him the third-most-popular governor in the nation. He doesn’t need my pity.

I’ve been involved in politics all my adult life. I understand horse trading, whipping votes, and how arms need to be twisted now and then. But never, least of all now, have I had any patience for considering a life-issue bill to be a matter of conscience in March and a matter of saving face two months later.

This is the kind of thing that makes “undeclared” the largest bloc of voters in New Hampshire.

Opposition to the death penalty is something of a stumbling block to a lot of people who are pro-life in other respects. Some of those people are Republican legislators who voted against the repeal bill earlier this session and will vote to sustain the veto. They’re not giving the party whips any heartburn. They will be consistent.

The Republicans who voted in favor of death penalty repeal are the ones getting the lectures now. They’re the ones I’m thinking about as the vote nears. I hope they’ll be consistent, too.

N.H. Considers Death Penalty Repeal Again

Update, 5/4/19: HB 455, described in this post, passed House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Sununu. An override vote has not yet been scheduled.

A veto by Governor Chris Sununu last June stopped a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty statute. Undeterred, advocates of repeal have brought forth another bill this year, HB 455. It just received an “ought to pass” recommendation from the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee on a vote of 11-6. I’m glad to see that.

The repeal effort picked up a powerful advocate this time: Rep. David Welch (R-Kingston). He’s the committee’s ranking Republican and former chairman.

I went to the recent public hearing on HB 455 to sign “the blue sheet” indicating my support. I’m a registered lobbyist with a client that does not take a position on capital punishment, so as I entered the room I had to take off my orange badge and become just another member of the general public losing time from work in order to weigh in on the bill. I caught just the end of Rep. Welch’s testimony.

As quoted in a New Hampshire Union Leader report, Rep. Welch announced he had abandoned his longtime support for capital punishment. “Now I’ve resolved my positions. I’m consistently prolife and will not vote for the death penalty.”

Remember that the next time you think someone’s views on the right to life are set in stone.

I’m going to thank Rep. Welch. I’m not sure he’s hearing a lot of that. Emotions run high when capital punishment is up for debate.

A legislator who’s a friend of mine testified in strong opposition to repeal. She reminded her colleagues of a horrific murder in New Hampshire that occurred during a home invasion, and how the murderers were not covered by the death penalty statute at that time – unjustly, in the legislator’s view. (The statute has since been amended to include murders committed during home invasions.) She considers her support for capital punishment to be advocacy for the woman, Kimberly Cates, who was a victim of that violent crime.

I understand that, even if I don’t agree with the conclusion. I also understand the legislators who cry out about the hypocrisy of their colleagues who oppose the death penalty but who vote pro-abortion every chance they get. Believe me, I understand their frustration.

A House vote is still some days off. I’m looking forward to a roll call.

N.H. Legislators Try Again to Repeal Death Penalty

Two years after repeal of New Hampshire’s death penalty law failed on a tie vote in the Senate, the Senate has approved SB 593 on a 14-10 vote. The bill would change the penalty for capital murder to life imprisonment without the possibility for parole.

SB 593 has been assigned to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee where a hearing is yet to be scheduled.

SB 593 has a long bipartisan list of co-sponsors, led by Sen. Kevin Avard (R-Nashua). In an op-ed published in the New Hampshire Union Leader two days before the Senate vote, Sen. Avard wrote about his reason for introducing the legislation. An excerpt:

SINCE THE DEATH penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1973, for every 10 people who have been executed across the country, one person has been exonerated. Can we continue to live with a 10 percent wrongful conviction rate in capital punishment cases? I cannot, which is why I have introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire.

I have reached the point where no argument made in favor of capital punishment can overcome the reality that having the death penalty inevitably means that innocent people have been and will continue to be wrongfully convicted and executed. The only way to guarantee that the innocent are not wrongfully executed is to abolish capital punishment.

A Union Leader news report published the day after the Senate hearing on the bill said that people testifying in opposition included the president of the N.H. Chiefs of Police Association, the chief steward of the Manchester Police Patrolmen’s Association and president of the New Hampshire Police Association. The report also said that Governor Chris Sununu has threatened to veto the bill in the form passed by the Senate.

Death penalty in NH: two bills, two directions

Legislators came close to repealing New Hampshire’s death penalty statute a couple of years ago. I cheered for that.  Now, two death penalty bills are on the table: one a moratorium, one an expansion.

Senate Bill 463 would suspend imposition of capital punishment “until such time that methods exist to ensure that the death penalty cannot be imposed on an innocent person.” The list of sponsors is impressively varied: Senators Avard, Daniels, Kelly and Lasky, and Reps. Seidel, Cushing and Ferreira. The Senate Judiciary Committee has made an “ought to pass” recommendation on a 3-1 vote, and the full Senate will vote on the bill on March 3.

And then there’s the House bill, or perhaps I should say Rep. Flanagan’s bill, since no one else’s name seems to be on it. It’s HB 1552, and it would  extend the death penalty to acts of terrorism and civil rights offenses. The House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee has already held a hearing on the measure and will vote on it March 1.

I’d like to believe that a moratorium or suspension in imposing the death penalty would be a step in the right direction. I hope the Senate passes SB 463. I’m proud that my own district’s Senator Gary Daniels is the one who will formally present the committee’s recommendation on the Senate floor.


SCOTUS term is over – but they suspended Texas abortion regs before leaving

Abortion regulation, the HHS/Obamacare contraceptive mandate, and the death penalty got some attention from the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) before the Court’s term ended Monday. The day was somewhat anticlimactic in view of last week’s decision re-defining marriage nationwide.

Justice Anthony Kennedy (supremecourt.gov photo)
Justice Anthony Kennedy (supremecourt.gov photo)

> New Texas abortion regulations are on hold by order of the Court, pending a full hearing of the case – possibly next term. The vote was 5-4. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Justice Anthony Kennedy joined with “the Court’s liberals” (Politico’s term, not mine) in the majority.

> In the latest order – again, not a decision – on Obamacare’s insurance-coverage contraceptive mandate, the Court upheld for now a Solomonic decision by the Third Circuit that figuratively splits the baby. A group of Catholic entities in Pennsylvania challenged the mandate. The Third Circuit upheld the mandate, but okayed a mother-may-I procedure for religious entities objecting to it. Whether the Constitution allows mother-may-I is yet to be decided by the top court. I’ll let the legal eagles at SCOTUSblog summarize this one.


“First, the religious groups must provide some type of notice to the federal Department of Health and Human Services that they want and are entitled to a religious exemption from the mandate.   If the groups do that, the government may not enforce the mandate directly against them, while the Court is pondering whether to review the case itself.

“Second, the women who are employed by or are students at the religious organizations are assured that they will have access, at no cost to them, of birth control methods and devices approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.   The government can go ahead, the Court made clear, and make arrangements for the health insurance plans in effect for the religious groups to assure free access to the contraceptives.  The government will reimburse the cost.

“The Court’s order stressed that it did not mean that the Justices were ruling on the correctness of the Third Circuit decision.   That will be the issue if the Court grants review in the pending case of Zubik v. Burwell (docket 14-1418).”

> This one was a full-blown decision: in Glossip v. Gross, the Court upheld the use of a particular drug for executions. Challengers had claimed it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Among the original petitioners, according to Justice Scalia, was someone convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-month-old baby. I feel nothing but revulsion at that; “cruel and unusual” seems just about right for such a criminal. My opposition to the death penalty, though, doesn’t depend on how lovable the criminal might be.

Justice Stephen Breyer (supremecourt.gov photo)
Justice Stephen Breyer (supremecourt.gov photo)

I have to wonder whether “humane” execution is designed for the prisoner’s sake or the onlookers’. The less we squirm, the better – is that the idea? Justice Breyer – not a man whose decisions respect any right to life for preborn children – dissented from the Glossip decision, and he apparently didn’t parse the which-drugs-are-better question. He flat-out asked for a briefing on the constitutionality of capital punishment.

This wasn’t the case for that. Apparently, the Court is cautious about overreaching on the death penalty. Their delicacy is amusing in view of their marriage decision. Perhaps I’ll live to see a day when boldness prevails in defense of the right to life.