Thursday, January 27, 2005

Death in the Morning

State sanctioned death has never been limited to our national "enemies," and an excellent article by Sister Helen Prejean makes that clear. It also reveals that, among other obfuscations, Bush has used the tool of "definitions" before, and has always been more careful and clever with his language than his persona of malapropisms would suggest:

To make sure that he never had to examine death sentences seriously, Governor Bush used a legal tactic similar to the one used by the US Supreme Court to block death row petitioners' access to constitutional claims. He restricted the standard for clemency so severely that no petitioner could qualify. He stated that since the courts had "thoroughly examined" every obscure detail of a death row petitioner's claims and found no grounds for injustice, it was not his place to "second-guess" the courts. In his autobiography Bush wrote,

In every [death] case, I would ask: Is there any doubt about this individual's guilt or innocence? And, have the courts had ample opportunity to review all the legal issues in this case?

But, of course, the courts would already have reviewed and rejected the legal issues of death row petitioners' cases before they landed on Bush's desk. As governor, Bush was literally the court of last resort for a condemned man or woman, vested with authority to dispense mercy or withhold it, according to his personal judgment. Unlike the courts, he was not restricted to pure legalities. As far back as 1855, the US Supreme Court saw compassion and mercy as central to the exercise of gubernatorial clemency. This means that governors and their boards are free to consider any basis for mercy: mental handicaps, mental illness, childhood abuse, incompetence of defense counsel, remorse, racial discrimination in juries, signs of rehabilitation.

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