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Newsom Shuts Down Death Row ~ Governor Issues Moratorium on Death Penalty

Kelly M. Grow / California Department of Water Resources

[dropcap size=big]C[/dropcap]alifornia Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order placing a moratorium on executions on Wednesday, giving all 737 inmates on California’s death row a reprieve from being executed, theoretically for as long as he’s in office.

The order is backed by a governor’s ability to commute death sentences. These are usually done individually, but on Wednesday, Gov. Newsom established a blanket moratorium. The move is reminiscent of Newsom’s then-bold move in 2004 to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as mayor of San Francisco, well before gay unions became state and national law.

California is home to the largest death row in the United States, with 25 who have been convicted of murder and have exhausted their appeals, according to the L.A. Times. California hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2006 because of legal challenges to its chosen execution method, lethal injection.

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The death penalty has been an abject failure. It discriminates based on the color of your skin or how much money you make. It’s ineffective, irreversible, and immoral. It goes against the very values that we stand for — which is why CA is putting a stop to this failed system.

— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) March 13, 2019

[dropcap size=big]N[/dropcap]ewsom is a longtime opponent of the death penalty, and sought counsel from religious leaders, state lawmakers, and former governors from around the United States before making his decision, reports said. The office of the governor said that about six in 10 people on California’s death row are people of color.

“Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure. It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Most of all, the death penalty is absolute. It’s irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error,” Newsom in a statement Wednesday.

Newsom’s order could be challenged in court, as a governor needs the state Supreme Court’s approval to pardon or commute the sentence of anyone twice convicted of a felony, the Associated Press said.

Gov. Newsom moments before announcing the moratorium order. Photo by Kelly M. Grow/California Department of Water Resources.
Gov. Newsom moments before announcing the moratorium order. Photo by Kelly M. Grow/California Department of Water Resources.

[dropcap size=big]P[/dropcap]ublic opinion has shifted on the death penalty. A 2018 Pew Research survey found that there was an uptick in support of the death penalty, but support is far lower than it was in 1996. The survey found that in 2018, 54 percent of Americans supported the death penalty, while 78 percent of Americans supported capital punishment in 1996.

“Today’s decision doesn’t abolish the death penalty, but today is a necessary step,” said Mary Kate DeLucco, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Death Penalty Focus. “The moratorium will give the governor the time he needs to fix this broken system.”

California joins governors in Oregon, Colorado, and Pennsylvania in using similar executive powers to establish similar moratoriums according to USA Today. Illinois and Washington have completely outlawed executions.

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