Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Death Penalty...and the Death of the Law Itself

Friends, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D -- in case that wasn't obvious) recently scored a twofer.  Not only did he strike a blow against the rule of law in California -- by invalidating that state's death penalty statutes at the stroke of a pen -- he also gave the middle finger to California voters, who three times in the last decade have voted either to keep the death penalty in place or to make it easier to apply capital punishment to persons on death row.  But who cares what the law says, right?  And who cares what the voters think?  And who cares that Gavin Newsom promised NOT to block the enforcement of the death penalty?  None of these things matter, because Gavin Newsom feels that the death penalty is racist and wrong.  And, at the end of the day, all that really counts in this life is liberals' feelings, right?  To make a liberal shed a tear is the only true form of injustice that Newsom and his ilk recognize.

Read all about it in my latest article:

For Gavin Newsom, and Most Democrats, the Rule of Law is a State of Mind

Just a few months ago, Gavin Newsom, during his campaign for Governor of California, declared that the death penalty was the law of the land, and he would respect the clearly expressed will of California voters and would not therefore obstruct the enforcement of the death penalty.

Now, though, the election is over, Gavin Newsom is the Governor of our most populous state, and he reserves the right to have a change of heart. He has, as a matter of fact, put an indefinite halt to all executions in California — not on procedural grounds, but due to the dictates of his conscience. The California death penalty has been snuffed out, because California's Governor finds it odious.

Newsom gives two main reasons for his decision. First, he says that most of the people on death row are black and Hispanic. He says this calls into question the fairness of our criminal justice system. He omits to mention, however, that most murders and other capital crimes in California are committed by blacks and Hispanics, so their over-representation on death row reflects their over-representation in violent crime statistics generally. Newsom, though, would like to apply the tired liberal logic of racial quotas to the death penalty, and, since he can't do that, he'd rather throw out the whole system. 

Newsom, curiously, isn't troubled by the fact that the overwhelming majority of death row inmates are men. A reflexive assumption of gender bias seems not to apply, in this case. Imagine that.

The other reason Newsom gives for scrapping the death penalty is its finality. The criminal justice system makes mistakes, he points out, and once someone has been executed by the state there is no way to make amends. In this respect he is right, but the same logic applies to long terms of imprisonment. Yes, a man or woman imprisoned for decades, but suddenly and miraculously found innocent in their sunset years, could be released, but their life, for all practical purposes, would still have been taken from them. Gavin's argument, therefore, could lead us to conclude that virtually any form of punishment is unfair, because it could potentially be inflicted on the innocent. That is no reason, however, to spare the guilty. Our legal system employs the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” for excellent reasons. Most of the time, our juries and our judges get it right.

In the end, Newsom's rationalizations are mere fig leaves. He is blocking the enforcement of California's death penalty because he finds the death penalty itself immoral. Gavin Newsom, the great moral philosopher, is substituting his own moral compass for the letter of the law, for the lessons of decades of legal precedent, and for the judgment of the people of California, expressed in their decision to defeat two state propositions in the last eight years, both of which relied on the same specious arguments that Newsom is now advancing. The sheer egotism implicit in Newsom's position is jaw-dropping. “This is about who I am as a human being,” said Newsom. Who murder victims used to be, before they were murdered — that's clearly a lesser consideration.

Newsom, sadly, is not unique in arrogating to himself the right to decide what is just, and therefore what is lawful. (To Democrats and liberal jurists, there is no distinction between the two.) Democrats nationwide have essentially declared our immigration laws null and void, as they extend “sanctuary,” as well as legal assistance and generous benefits programs, to illegal immigrants. The Democratic House of Representatives practices a similarly selective standard of justice as it seeks to work backward from the premise “All Trumps are criminals” to discover which crimes each individual Trump may have committed. Meanwhile, almost every lawful action taken by President Trump is blocked by “Obama judges” and snarled in months of litigation. 

To be fair, though, the ground was prepared for this sort of legalistic sophistry long ago by liberals on the Supreme Court, who rewrote the Constitution on the assumption that it was an “evolving” document. If, therefore, the Founding Fathers failed to insert a line in the Constitution about, say, the right to an abortion, the liberals claimed it was only because the right was implied — or, in a pinch, it could be conjured into existence, based on the supposedly self-evident moral case for abortion on demand. Less and less often was the strict wording of the Constitution itself, or the intent of the Framers, considered relevant.

The rule of law, in the hands of the current crop of Democratic governors, mayors, judges, Congressmen and women, and potentially even — gasp! — a Democratic President can by no means be considered secure. This is because, increasingly, Democrats and liberals refuse to enforce the laws they do not like, and they effectively rewrite (or re-imagine) the laws and constitutional provisions that are already in place to achieve whatever legal and social outcome they find congenial.

What is “justice,” to Gavin Newsom and his ilk? It is a world in which the law is a vehicle to permit liberals to reward those they like and punish those they hate. That is, by any conventional understanding of the rule of law in the Western tradition, the very abnegation of the law itself. 

We simply cannot allow people who think like this to execute or interpret our nation's laws.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: He appears weekly on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480.

And here's the version you'll find in the Daily Caller:


  1. Dr. Waddy: People like Newsome see elections as simply "getting their tickets punched". After all, we have no further obligation to the gatekeeper at a ticketed event. Similarly,office holders like him think themselves admitted to a veritable midway, a cornucopia, of policy choices and like 15 year olds at the mall, glory in their perceived right to pick and choose with prideful abandon.

    The death penalty is enacted without due process, by criminals, daily. The majority of those executed thus are members of the same minorities whose presence on death row so moves Gov. Newsome.

    The arbitrary assumption by leftists that justice is whatever they say it is and that "law" is sham, fairly predicts yet again how it will be should they achieve the dominance they think their due.

    I think your evidence and your argument to be very sound.

  2. Thanks, Jack! It certainly does seem as though Dem elected officials feel they can get away with (metaphorical) murder once they're in office, and unfortunately California's one-party system means in this case they're right. Newsom betrayed the voters, but he'll be lauded for it in liberal circles, and undoubtedly he'll win re-election. He's done this before: he issued marriage licenses to gay couples when it was clearly against the law. Now he's invalidating the law itself. He's a true Democrat!

  3. Dr. Waddy: His touching and surely detached compassion for savages may come in handy for us when he runs for President; he'll be ripe for the Dukakis treatment.Dukakis, it will be remembered, as Mass. Governor, kindly ordered furloughs from prison for such as Willie Horton, who had stabbed a young man unluckily in his way so many times that the youth's blood was completely drained and had then, understandably and inconveniently for Horton, been judicially denied further contact with the general population. Then, when Horton predictably mauled a couple during his restful sojourn among the lawful, Dukakis refused to meet with the victims. It did cost him the Presidency; perhaps Horton's victims got some comfort from that; perhaps not. I would dare Newsom, Dukakis and Cuomo to spend a couple of nights in a maximum security joint in July grooving to the edifying ambience which obtains therein. They would find those for whom they bear such laudable regard to be less than cordial, even to the enlightened trio - their benefactors and their champions.

    NY and California are providing very instructive examples of one party leftist dictatorships, in all their arbitrary and disdainful presumptuousness! Those who doubt the Electoral College should consider that it is only that which prevented those pitiful states from working their will on the real America in 2016.

  4. Hear hear, Jack! Not so long ago the Democrats were convinced of the electoral necessity of supporting "law and order," even if they never cottoned to the death penalty or incarceration themselves. Now they seem to think the time has come to indulge all their utopian fantasies. No walls means, in due course, no prisons, right? Quite a few leftists would like to see the prison "industry" put out of business. If Republicans are smart, they will let these advocates of chaos vent their spleens to their hearts' content...

    Note, however, that the Left's contempt for justice and for the police and prisons is only electorally sustainable/viable because crime itself is played down by the media. After all, telling stories about crimes committed by persons who are members of groups the Left has deemed beyond reproach (minorities, illegal immigrants, the poor, the mentally ill, etc.) is counter-indicated by the Higher Truth that liberals profess to serve. You're right that the American people instinctively see through such nonsense...but not when the wool is deliberately pulled over their eyes.

  5. For four years I lived, on a carrier, in circumstances physically similar in many ways to prison. We were packed together, had no contact with women at sea, wore uniforms, were ordered about, endured stultifying routine, had no privacy and were "doing time" in a sense. Yet, for the most part, we got along; the deadly reality of prison life did not obtain. Why? - simple - we were not criminals. Those places in which criminals are concentrated are polluted by them; society must hold them personally responsible for their offenses because it is within their persons that the decision to do crime originates. But this, in the minds of the iconoclastic left, is automatically held to be perverse and by definition discredited just as are so many common sense verities. Unless they get mugged, their minds are impervious to change on this. Therefore, they must be politically marginalized and that starts by a full scale attack on the bigoted MSM which deliberately misleads on crime and its causes.

  6. Jack, you make a strong case for becoming a mugger... Ha ha. You're right, though, that a brush with criminality would serve a lot of liberals very well indeed. I couldn't agree more with your advocacy of personal responsibility -- and it's corollary: accountability for the lawless few. If there's one thing I can't abide it's making excuses, and the Left is up its eyeballs in excuses.

  7. Dr. Waddy: I cannot emphasize enough how very , very discredited I saw the view that criminal are victims, during my employment among them.