Monday, June 8, 2009

Just in from Jim

Here's a two-page memo, co-authored by Judge Sotomayor, on the death penalty. In it, she and two others recommend that the Board of Directors of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund issue a statement to then-NY Governor Hugh Carey in opposition to the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York. The reasons are those we typically see given by death penalty opponents today. That's not what's important here. What is important is that Sotomayor, if her convictions are as they were in 1981, would be a solid anti-death penalty vote for years to come.

Sotomayor Memo on Capital Punishment


Christopher said...

Saw this post on Facebook and I figured I'd weigh in here since I know how it feels when no one comments on your blog. :-(

Anyhow, I think my disagreement with point 5 forms the basis for my disagreement with most of the other points. Far from being incompatible with the "Judeo-Christian tradition," capital punishment is *required* by Judeo-Christian teaching on justice. Based on that, points 1, 2, 4, and 6 are essentially moot. Point 3 is an interesting non sequitur. The relevance of the statistic assumes that all races commit capital crimes at equal proportions. I'm fairly certain that assumption is faulty. Even if it weren't, the fact that some people who should be executed aren't doesn't mean that those who are shouldn't be.

Point 7 strikes me as odd, indicating that I probably have to do a bit more reading on the subject. As I sit here, I wonder what psychological burden would be placed on the family of the *victim* when the State prioritizes the life of the murderer over the life of the victim.

Point 8 is probably the strongest. On the one hand, I would be happy to see some restrictions on capital offenders' nearly unlimited access to the judicial system. On the other hand, I know that such access is probably the best way to be assured that those executed really deserved it. Overall, I don't think point 9 is sufficient to outweigh the interests of justice.

Justin said...


Define "required" please.

Christopher said...

The Mosaic law required the death penalty and murder was only one capital offense (See Ex. 21-22). Execution of a murderer is an appropriate punishment because murder destroys the image of God in the victim (See Gen. 9:6). Even the New Testament recognizes the role of the government in bearing the "sword" against wrongdoers (See Rom. 13:4). Thus I would submit that, while the concept of biblical justice does not preclude the existence of mercy, it does require that capital punishment be a part of the judicial arsenal.

Jim Craig said...

I appreciate your thoughts, Christopher. I don't have time to give them the response they deserve, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow . . .

Justin said...

Preclusion of existence and requirement do seem at odds though.

How can one exhibit mercy if they are required to kill?

Christopher said...

As with any form of punishment or method of judicial administration, discretion is necessary. Capital punishment should be the default punishment for capital offenses, but extenuating circumstances may mitigate in favor of something less harsh. When I use the word "require," it is not indended to be interpreted as a wooden 1:1 application ratio but rather as the rule to which prudent judges may find the need to make an exception.

To put it another way, my original statement that "capital punishment is *required* by Judeo-Christian teaching on justice" should be read in its context, as a response to the claim that capital punishment is somehow barred by Judeo-Christian tradition.

If this is going to turn into a quibble over semantics, allow me to rephrase my position: Far from being contrary to the Bible's teaching, capital punishment is an indispensible part of biblical justice delegated to the civil magistrate.

Matt Eichelberger said...


Thanks very much for jumping in and commenting. You're right, blogging without comment isn't nearly as much fun as blogging with it.

As for your reference to Romans 13:4, I'd like to know how you read it to condone capital punishment in light of the following:
1) Romans 12,

2) Matthew 5:23-24,

3) John 8:7, and

4) the fact that the Romans did not perform capital punishment with the sword.

Jim Craig said...

"It can be argued that rapists deserve to be raped, that mutilators deserve to be mutilated. Most societies, however, refrain from responding in this way because the punishment is not only degrading to those on whom it is imposed, but it is also degrading to the society that engages in the same behavior as the criminals."

-Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia

Christopher said...


The application of those passages to the question of capital punishment is spurious at best. In fact, Romans 12 supports my point. Compare Rom. 12:19 (Beloved,never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'") with Rom. 13:4b ("For [the governing authority] is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.").

In other words, individuals are not to take vengeance themselves, but leave it to God, and punishment by the magistrate is one of the means God has appointed to carry out His vengeance. Exegesis should never be carried out in a vacuum, and the Romans 12 "lead-in" for Romans 13 is a good example of this.

This is why the man who murdered Dr. Tiller a couple weeks ago should be executed for his crime. It is not the provenance of the individual to carry out such punishment. God has left that authority to the government.

I'm not sure how the Matthew passage applies, and the John passage is so badly misapplied these days that I would have to spend more time treating it. I'm happy to do so if you'd like.


I simply cannot agree with that quote. First, ontologically, capital punishment is simply not the same as murder. The biblical distinction between the two could not be clearer. Second, his assertions about what degrades a society are just that: assertions. That quote is the sort of quote that really doesn't mean anything unless you already agree with it. I could go on at length about the sorts of things that degrade a society. That list would be very long, and capital punishment would not be anywhere on it.