Nebraska: A Red State Repeals the Death Penalty

Efforts to end the death penalty took a monumental step forward yesterday. Despite a veto from Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, the Nebraska Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto and passed legislation repealing the state’s death penalty, making it the first red state to do so since North Dakota in the 1970s.

The Successful Veto Override Vote in Nebraska

Think about that moment. Not only did a red state just repeal the death penalty. It had overwhelming legislative support – a veto-proof majority to be exact – for ending the practice.

Nebraska took this step because Republican senators joined a bi-partisan coalition working to repeal the death penalty. These Republicans had principled reasons for opposing the death penalty, as the lead GOP bill sponsor, Senator Colby Coash, explained:

“[Repeal of the death penalty] is consistent with my pro-life views, but it’s also consistent with trying to make government more efficient. With the death penalty, taxpayers are not getting what they’re paying for. If any other programs were as costly or inefficient as this, we would have gotten rid of them.”

As is the case elsewhere in the country, the death penalty in Nebraska had been a failure. Nebraska had dedicated extra time and resources to a death penalty it virtually never used. The state’s last execution was in 1997 and the lack of available lethal injection drugs had made it impossible for the state to carry out executions.

Furthermore, keeping the death penalty had led to disastrous mistakes. The threat of the death penalty by prosecutors in a 1986 murder case in Beatrice, Nebraska, led to false confessions and the wrongful conviction of six individuals. DNA evidence eventually proved their innocence after over 75 years collectively in prison.

Confronted with these realities, Nebraska put an end to its death penalty. As Nebraskans were debating the death penalty this year, Young Americans for Liberty students were active hosting educational events on the issue. Death row exoneree Ray Krone visited Creighton University in an event sponsored by the Creighton YAL Chapter, and shared his experience of being wrongfully sentenced to death on the basis of faulty evidence.

Given the persistent problems plaguing the death penalty, Nebraska likely will not be the last state to scrap it. Expect more states, red and blue alike, to follow Nebraska’s lead.

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