Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tough on Crime

Conventional wisdom has always been that support for the death penalty is a prerequisite for attaining public office, particularly in California, which has the largest death row in the country.  Since at least 1986, when Chief Justice Rose Bird (appointed by Jerry Brown) and two fellow justices were voted off the bench after a vitriolic campaign that focused on their death penalty reversals, successful politicians have relied on enthusiasm for the death penalty as shorthand for their "tough on crime" bonafides.  Yesterday’s election results undermine this long-held assumption.  The California Democratic Party for the first time included in its party platform a plank supporting abolition of the death penalty, which declares that Democrats will "replace the death penalty with a term of permanent incarceration, which will serve to protect the public, provide swift and certain justice for victims' families, and save the state an estimated $1 billion over the next five years."  Democratic candidates, including Jerry Brown (Governor) and Gavin Newsom (Lt. Gov.) as well as those down the ticket, are all personally opposed to the death penalty yet they all won.  Most notably, S.F. District Attorney Kamala Harris remains ahead in a very close race for Attorney General against "law and order" L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley.  Cooley's main line of attack against Harris was her refusal to pursue the death penalty for the killer of a San Francisco policeman, and the Republican State Leadership Committee used $1.6 million for ads attacking Harris's opposition to the death penalty.  The attempt to paint Harris as soft on crime, however, didn't work.  Harris has maintained that she will uphold the law if elected, but she has unapologetically maintained that the death penalty is flawed.  She believes that life without possibility of parole is more efficient and cost effective.  (A recent study by California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice estimated that the death penalty conservatively costs $137 million per year).  She has skillfully argued that the death penalty has not made us safer and that the money spent every year on the death penalty could be far more productively used to put more cops on the street and to fund programs which aim to stop recidivism. This genuine tough on crime stance is a principled position and a political winner. 
[Related posts: Banality of Evil, Drug Problem]


Anonymous said...

Right on . . . CA elects 'smart' politicians who want real public safety for everyone.

Anonymous said...

The premise that Rose Bird and the other justices were defeated because of their stand on the death penalty is flawed. It never addresses the question of who financed the virulent campaign against Rose Bird and why they were willing to give so much money to the effort. The Bird court handed down the decision in Tucker Vs. Lassen, a case name that resonates not at all with the public but raises the ire of every banker and mortgage lender. It was a 65 page decision, far too lengthy to cover here, Too complicated for sound bites but reason for bankers and lenders to go after Bird and her fellow Ca. Supreme Court Justices and bring about the FIRST EVER RECALL of a group of Supreme Court justices. Tucker vs. Lassen allowed a home buyer to assume an existing mortgage on the house he had just bought. If it happened to be a low interest loan it would sweeten the deal for a buyer allowing him to enjoy lower payments. It also gave birth to a new type of mortgage security, the "wrap-around" trust deed. 20% of the Ca. savings and loan companies income came from pre-payment penalties charged sellers of homes when they paid off their mortgages because of due-on-sale requirements in the loans. Hell hath no fury like a banker denied an unearned interest payment gratuitously delivered to him by an obscure clause in a mortgage contract. They funded the attack on Rose Bird, under the nose of the "watchdog" press. Aided by the extreme right-wing of the Republican party angered by the labor friendly decisions of the Bird court, they put fear in the hearts of all liberal judges.

Anonymous said...

The post above is absolutely correct - particularly as to Justice Grodin. Grodin was clearly targeted because of his pro-labor, pro-plaintiff, and pro-consumer positions, not because of his position on the death penalty, which was actually quite a bit more nuanced than Bird's.

Lovechilde said...

I don't disagree that Justices Bird-Grodin-Reynoso were targeted because of their pro-labor, pro-consumer positions. My point is that the campaign against them -- engineered by those opposed to these views -- focused on their death penalty opinions.

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