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Sen. Harris Opposition to Death Penalty Represents Sudden Shift

Presidential candidate favored ultimate punishment when she was a prosecutor

By Evan Gahr, March 19, 2019 5:18 pm

The senator’s position on the death penalty has shown eye-catching flexibility.

Praising California Governor Gavin Newsom for his new statewide moratorium on executions Kamala Harris this week played fast and loose with the facts by pretending she has consistently opposed capitol punishment.

In a statement, the Golden State’s junior senator and much ballyhooed presidential candidate called Newsom’s move “an important day for justice and for the state of California. I applaud Governor Newsom for his decision to place a moratorium on the death penalty. As a career law enforcement official, I have opposed the death penalty because it is immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

She stated that the death penalty is racially discriminatory, a familiar argument from opponents.

“The symbol of our justice system is a woman with a blindfold. It is supposed to treat all equally, but the application of the death penalty – a final and irreversible punishment – has been proven to be unequally applied,” the Oakland native contended. “Black and Latino defendants are far more likely to be executed than their white counterparts. Poor defendants without a team of lawyers are far more likely to enter death row than those with strong representation. Your race or your bank account shouldn’t determine your sentence.”

Harris also argued that capital punishment is a waste of the taxpayer’s money.  This is a curious argument to make since Californians have repeatedly voted in favor of the death penalty in statewide ballot referendums. So clearly they don’t think it is a bad way to spend their tax dollars.

“It is also a waste of taxpayer money. The California Legislative Analyst’s office estimates that California would save $150 million a year if it replaced the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole,” she said. “That’s money that could go into schools, health care, or restorative justice programs. It is not a smart way to keep people safe.”

In addition the Senator said that many innocent people have been executed. “But the death penalty in America has been imposed as a final punishment to many who were later found to be innocent, she contended. “Between 1973 and 2016, for every ten people executed, more than one person has been exonerated. Killing one innocent person would be too many. It’s time to turn the page on this chapter and end a deeply flawed system of capital punishment in California.”

But if Harris finds the ultimate penalty so bad and so wasteful why is it, as Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton noted earlier this year, she did she not take a position when Californians considered capital punishment in ballot initiatives in 2012 and 2016?

And in 2014, as state attorney general, she worked to keep the death penalty in place. When a federal district court ruled the death penalty in California unconstitutional because of long delays in executing people Harris successfully appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Harris said the state was not “constitutionally responsible” for the delays since the time lapses were due to repeated appeals by death row inmates.

Harris also argued that the district court had wrongly ventured into policy because “the judgment of the Californian people” was to allow Capital punishment.  In other words the court had usurped the will of the people.

But Harris is now praising Newsom for a decision that usurped the will of the people.

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