On Thursday, August 13, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty violates the state constitution. Connecticut repealed the death penalty in 2012, but the repeal was prospective, meaning that the state could still kill the 11 people on death row at the time. The state Supreme Court’s decision last week means that those 11 death row inmates can no longer be executed. The court issued a tremendously informative and “ambitious” 92-page majority opinion justifying their decision.
In an op-ed titled “Talking About the Death Penalty, Court to Court,” published by the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse delves into what the Connecticut Supreme Court decision means for the state, death penalty litigation and the death penalty debate overall.
On hearing that the Connecticut Supreme Court had invalidated the state’s death penalty, many people probably shrugged and thought, "O.K., that’s one little blue state that hardly ever executed anyone (a single execution in the past 55 years, if you’re counting) and that was already never going to add anyone new to death row. How important can this decision be?"
That was, frankly, my thought as well, and I picked up the decision — more than 200 pages, including concurring and dissenting opinions — with some reluctance and a sense of obligation. (My apartment building is across the street from the New Haven courthouse where crowds, gathered for the consecutive trials in the home-invasion murders, blocked the sidewalks for weeks in 2010 and 2011.) But I turned the pages with mounting excitement. In the breadth of its perspective on the history and current problematic state of the death penalty, in its cleareyed dissection of the irreconcilable conflict at the heart of modern death-penalty jurisprudence, the Connecticut Supreme Court not only produced an important decision for its own jurisdiction; but it addressed the United States Supreme Court frankly and directly. The decision engages the Supreme Court at a crucial moment of mounting unease, within the court and outside it, with the death penalty’s trajectory over the nearly four decades since the court permitted states to resume executions.
The Connecticut Supreme Court decision is yet one more indication that capital punishment is on its way out. Public support for the death penalty is on the decline, as more and more Americans are awakening to the fact that the death penalty is rife with racial bias and unfairness, risks the execution of innocent people, and ultimately does not make us safer. People are coming together to say enough is enough, it is time for America to abolish the death penalty.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has created the 90 Million Strong Campaign to unite the voices of those who believe the death penalty is wrong. We need to demonstrate that the broad public support to end this practice is already here in America, and 90 million people speaking up can make a difference.
For breaking news and additional information on death penalty abolition developments across the country, please be sure to follow the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty on Twitter and like us on Facebook.