94 Pro Death Penalty Quotes by Journalists from the U.S.A

The argument that capital punishment degrades the state is moonshine, for if that were true then it would degrade the state to send men to war... The state, in truth, is degraded in its very nature: a few butcheries cannot do it any further damage.

Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956), was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, acerbic critic of American life and culture, and a student of American English. Mencken, known as the "Sage of Baltimore", is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the 20th century. Mencken is known for writing The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States, and for his satirical reporting on the Scopes trial, which he named the "Monkey" trial. In addition to his literary accomplishments, Mencken was known for his controversial ideas. A critic of World War II and democracy, Mencken wrote a huge number of articles about current events, books, music, prominent politicians, pseudo-intellectuals, temperance and uplifters. He notably attacked ignorance, intolerance, frauds, fundamentalist Christianity, osteopathy and chiropractic.

Execution in America is far from common --like the Chinese who find execution a simple method to rid themselves of a drugs problem, or Mr. Ahmadinejad who claims his country has "no gays"-- it is used only for the most heinous crimes. It is not barbaric; nor is there need for all the barbaric torture associated with the likes of Guy Fawkes and his gang; because it is not about vengeance or retribution but it serves a simple purpose. It balances the scales of justice and in the process shows to what extent a society really values the lives of its citizenry. [Troy Davis - Justice Served Posted: 22 September 2011 2:08 PM in the Daily Mail]

The United Kingdom doesn’t have a death penalty and in cases like the Soham Murders, the Moors, Bulger, Fred West – ones so shocking that even execution is considered a proportional and measured response – this is a shame. The abolition of a death penalty here is not the sign of some form of modern day enlightenment but in fact just the opposite. If anything it is a sign of moral weakness, of a society that is so afraid of its own barbarity that it cannot grasp the difference or distinguish between justice and revenge. Instead like a deer frozen in the headlights of the sometimes scary demands of justice it does nothing; a community so scared to act in case it gets the justice confused with revenge will let both perpetrators and victims (mainly their families) suffer for a lifetime instead. Ultimately it is the sign of a society that will not take on the duty to protect its citizens or stand up to the responsibilities and demands of justice. Justice is more than a set of laws; it is the ability to fairly adjudge crimes, set fitting penalties, and then have the courage to carry out that which justice demands. If the penalty falls far short of the crime then eventually the crime itself is trivialized and so are the rest of us. [Troy Davis - Justice Served Posted: 22 September 2011 2:08 PM in the Daily Mail]

The deterrent effects of the death penalty in the United States are incontrovertible. One only has to look at studies and statistics concerning murderers who have been let out only to kill again to realize that the death penalty does work as a deterrent – if not for others, at least for the killer in question. It can also be argued that some crimes, so repugnant and horrific that the death penalty is the only morally appropriate response, particularly to satisfy the families of the victims and to protect the wider community. [Troy Davis - Justice Served Posted: 22 September 2011 2:08 PM in the Daily Mail]

Capital punishment is punishment for grown up societies -- not cowering in the face of the mass injustice of murder. [Troy Davis - Justice Served Posted: 22 September 2011 2:08 PM in the Daily Mail]

The war on terror is fought on many fronts. The killing of people like Awlaki with Hellfire missiles is one of them; so are the years of meticulous intelligence gathering and research that led to his assassination. The fact is that we also need to win the battle of ideas. That means the public need to understand the differences between the laws of war from criminal and civil law; why the laws of war apply here. It takes an understanding and acknowledgement of the real threats we are up against and the freedoms we are fighting for. That the ideology promulgated by the likes of Awlaki is illiberal, fascist and a threat to the cause of freedom. There are no moral relativisms here. Our failure to understand the threat against us will lead to our losing not just the battle of ideas but the battle itself. [“Of Course it was Right to Kill Awlaki – Why Would You Even Ask.” Posted: Friday 30 September 2011 8:42 PM in the Daily Mail]

Charlie Wolf (born 12 April 1959) is a British-based American radio talk-show host, disc jockey and political commentator, originally from Boston, and formerly the Communications Director of Republicans Abroad UK. Wolf is best known for the TalkSport show he hosted on Saturdays and Sundays from 1am to 6am, following Mike Dickin. Wolf was forced to leave talkSPORT 2006 when the station hired Jon Gaunt, shifting Ian Collins back to overnights and Mike Mendoza to the weekend shifts occupied by Wolf, leaving no space in the schedule for him. He is now a featured writer and blogger for the Mail Online's "Right Minds" page edited by Simon Heffer.

The death penalty debate is back in full swing. The public's desire is no mystery. We want fewer debates and more executions. Every poll on the topic finds huge majorities in favor of executing first-degree murderers.

With 20,000 murders a year in the United States, most of us grasp instinctively what happens when the legal system fails to punish murder with a sentence that fits the awfulness and severity of the crime. That willful murderers should be put to death is a moral principle running straight back to Genesis. ("Whoso sheddeth the blood of man," God commands Noah, "by man shall his blood be shed.") [“Without the death penalty, innocents will die” by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe June 21, 1994]

There are many phony arguments against capital punishment, usually offered by death penalty opponents who would remain death penalty opponents even if their objections were met.

They claim to be against capital punishment because, they say, it has no deterrent effect. Or because other Western democracies have abolished it. Or because it is applied -- so they claim -- with a racist double standard. Or because rich killers hire top-notch lawyers and get off. Or because death by electrocution (or hanging, or even injection) is too gruesome. Or because the legal process is too expensive. Or because capital punishment is simply murder committed by the state. [“Without the death penalty, innocents will die” by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe June 21, 1994]

Phony, the lot. Each is either untrue (more white murderers are executed, for example, than black murderers); irrelevant (when did France become our role model?); or illogical (if capital punishment is state murder, a prison sentence must be state kidnapping). In most cases, these arguments are only rationalizations used to justify an opinion that won't change regardless of the facts.

This is easy to test. Ask the death penalty foe of your choice: If Belgium, Spain and Denmark reimposed capital punishment, would you favor it? If it were proven that executing murderers deterred potential killers? If the death penalty were administered with perfect color- and income-blindness? If all legal costs were paid privately? Then would you support it?

The answer is never yes. [“Without the death penalty, innocents will die” by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe June 21, 1994]

In other words, if the death penalty is revived, an innocent man might be killed.

That is true, and the point has some force. But if the death penalty is not revived, even more innocent people will be killed. The risk to innocent life is greater without capital punishment than with it. The only moral choice, therefore, is to favor its reimposition. [“Without the death penalty, innocents will die” by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe June 21, 1994]

Execute killers and they can never hurt another soul. Let them live and some number of them will kill again. It is easy to talk about locking murderers up for life. Even if that were possible, some would escape and kill again. Some would kill prison guards. Some would kill other inmates. [“Without the death penalty, innocents will die” by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe June 21, 1994]

The death penalty is the only just response to murder. With capital punishment, society faces the tiny possibility that an innocent life may be taken. Without capital punishment, society faces the certainty that more innocent lives will be taken. For anyone of sound mind and conscience, the choice should be clear. [“Without the death penalty, innocents will die” by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe June 21, 1994]

It is up to the law to speak to them-to speak for all grief-stricken survivors confronted with the butchery of someone near and dear. Capital punishment says to them: We, the community, take your loss with the utmost seriousness. We know that you are filled with rage and pain. We know that you may cry for vengeance, may yearn to strangle the murderer with your bare hands. You are right to feel that way. But it is not for you to wreak retribution. As a decent and just society, we will do it. Fairly. After due process. In a court of law.


"The Abolitionist's Cop-Out". The Boston Globe. 8 June 2000 - On the contrary. The growing infallibility of forensic science should if anything increase, not lessen, our confidence in the accuracy of criminal verdicts. And if that is true of convictions in general, it is especially true in death penalty cases, which are subject to multiple levels of post-trial review and intricate layers of due process. Of all the sanctions in our criminal code, a death sentence is the *least* likely to be the result of error or caprice.

"The Abolitionist's Cop-Out". The Boston Globe. 8 June 2000 - Nevertheless, let us suppose the worst. For the sake of argument, let us assume that the death penalty -- despite all our best efforts, despite all the safeguards and caution built into the system -- leads to the deaths of a few innocent people. Is that a good reason to do away with capital punishment?

Of course it isn't. Every institution that is of benefit to society also poses risks to society -- including the risk that innocent victims will die.

Patients die on the operating table because their surgeon made a mistake. Forty thousand Americans die in car accidents every year. Are those good reasons to abolish surgery and interstate highways? Anyone who said so would be dismissed as a crank.

Should policemen be allowed to carry guns? After all, if law enforcement officers go armed, innocent victims will sometimes lose their lives, as the recent deaths of Amadou Diallo in New York and Cornel Young in Providence, R.I., so tragically prove. If death penalty abolitionists really want to make sure that no one is unjustly killed by an agent of the state, they ought to call for disarming cops.

But is that what they really want? Is it the threat to innocent life that truly galvanizes the abolitionists, or is it simply their visceral dislike for capital punishment?

"The Abolitionist's Cop-Out". The Boston Globe. 8 June 2000 - No one who genuinely worries about the legal system putting innocent people at risk can afford to waste time denouncing the death penalty. In one 17-month period, criminals released "under supervision" committed 13,200 murders. Why is it that the enemies of capital punishment never have a word to say about those innocent victims?

"The Abolitionist's Cop-Out". The Boston Globe. 8 June 2000 - To say that society should refrain from executing murderers for fear of making a mistake is not noble. It is a cop-out. A soldier on the battlefield who refuses to shoot at the enemy lest he inadvertently hit the wrong man is no moral hero, and neither are those who demand that all murderers be kept alive so that we never face a risk -- however tiny, however remote -- of executing an innocent defendant.

"The Abolitionist's Cop-Out". The Boston Globe. 8 June 2000 - Granted, it is not easy to condemn someone to death, still less to carry out the sentence. Executions are irrevocable and irreversible; to take away anyone's life -- even a brutal criminal's -- involves an assertion of moral certainty that might make many of us tremble.

But trembling or not, we have a duty to carry out. A duty to proclaim that murder is evil and will not be tolerated. That it is the worst of all crimes and deserves the worst of all punishments. And that while we will bend over backward not to hurt the innocent, we will not let that paralyze us from punishing the guilty.

With McVeigh's death, wrote Rob Ham of California, "What has changed? The victims are still dead. Do the families now have closure? Can anyone ever have closure after losing a child, a husband, a wife, or a parent?"

This is an appeal to emotion, not reason. Of course the victims are still dead. They would still be dead if McVeigh had gotten life in prison, too. Or 20 years. Or probation. No one thinks the purpose of punishment is to undo the crime, yet death penalty abolitionists routinely remind us that killing a murderer won't bring his victims back to life. If that is a reason to ban executions, it is a reason to ban all punishment. [Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Columnist. "The feeble 'arguments' against capital punishment". Jewish World Review. 19 June 2001]

Ham's "closure" argument, meanwhile, is simply uninformed. The families of murder victims do not stop mourning when the killer dies, but for many, there is indeed a measure of solace in knowing that the monster who destroyed their loved one will never hurt anyone again. Abolishing executions certainly won't bring "closure" to grieving relatives. On the contrary, it will deepen their torment, mocking them each time they remember that the person they loved is in the grave, while his killer continues to breathe. [Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Columnist. "The feeble 'arguments' against capital punishment". Jewish World Review. 19 June 2001]

Why is it barbaric to require that one who violently steals the life of an innocent (or 168 innocents) not be allowed to keep his own? Where is the moral tradition that prescribes life for mass-murderers? How can it be civilizing to tell the world's worst people that no matter no matter how many victims they butcher, no matter what cruelty they inflict on others, the worst that will happen to them is that they will go to prison? Those are questions that abolitionists never answer. [Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Columnist. "The feeble 'arguments' against capital punishment". Jewish World Review. 19 June 2001]

‘The loss of freedom for the remainder of one's life is no mild punishment,' James Bernstein of New York wrote to the Times. 'We do not need the death penalty to express society's utter repudation of those who would take the lives of others.'

Bernstein has it exactly wrong. A society that bans the death penalty outright is confirming that it does not utterly repudiate its worst murderers. The United States last week made clear just how seriously it regards McVeigh's monstrous crime. Change the law so that no future McVeigh can be put to death, and the United States will be sending a different message: Mass murder isn't that bad. [Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Columnist. "The feeble 'arguments' against capital punishment". Jewish World Review. 19 June 2001]


In his view, executions are nothing but organized savagery:

"The execution of Timothy McVeigh will not bring back Julie or her colleagues," Welch says, "nor will it end the grieving for any of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. Revenge and hate are the reasons 168 people died that day in 1995. I oppose the death penalty absolutely, in all cases, because in all cases it is an act of revenge and hatred.


Bud Welch is wrong to describe capital punishment as nothing but "revenge and hatred" and wrong to imply that revenge and hatred -- as opposed to fairness and justice -- are what drive those who disagree with him. Welch deserves our sympathy for his daughter's death, but he is not entitled to impugn the motives of everyone who supports the death penalty. [Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Columnist. “An execution, not a lynching”. Jewish World Review. 15 May 2001]

Executing 'Children,' And Other Death-Penalty Myths 2 June 2002 - It's hard to say which is more offensive - the pretence that giving a lethal injection to a 25-year-old convicted murderer amounts to "executing children," or the spectacle of people who never shed a tear for the innocent John Luttig weeping so noisily for his killer.

Executing 'Children,' And Other Death-Penalty Myths 2 June 2002 - In any case, the age issue is a red herring.  No state allows the death sentence for anyone younger than 16, and no one younger than 23 has been executed in modern times.  Anti-execution activists seized on Beazley's age for the same reason they seized on Karla Faye Tucker's death row conversion to Christianity and Ricky McGinn's last-minute plea for DNA testing:  They'll seize on any excuse to keep a murderer alive, no matter how lame the excuse or how obvious the murderer's guilt.

DEATH PENALTY abolitionists don't usually mention it, but in promoting a moratorium on executions, they are urging us down a road we have taken before. [Capital Punishment Saves Lives 6 June 2002]


In sum, between 1965 and 1980, there was practically no death penalty in the United States, and for 10 of those 16 years - 1967-76 - there was literally no death penalty: a national moratorium.

What was the effect of making capital punishment unavailable for a decade and a half? Did a moratorium on executions save innocent lives - or cost them?

The data are brutal. Between 1965 and 1980, annual murders in the United States skyrocketed, rising from 9,960 to 23,040. The murder rate - homicides per 100,000 persons - doubled from 5.1 to 10.2. [Capital Punishment Saves Lives 6 June 2002]

Was it just a fluke that the steepest increase in murder in US history coincided with the years when the death penalty was not available to punish it? Perhaps. Or perhaps murder becomes more attractive when potential killers know that prison is the worst outcome they can face. By contrast, common sense suggests that there are at least some people who will not commit murder if they think it might cost them their lives. Sure enough, as executions have become more numerous, murder has declined. [Capital Punishment Saves Lives 6 June 2002]

Obviously, murder and the rate at which it occurs are affected by more than just the presence or absence of the death penalty. But even after taking that caveat into account, it seems irrefutably clear that when murderers are executed, innocent lives are saved. And when executions are stopped, innocent lives are lost. [Capital Punishment Saves Lives 6 June 2002]

But the due process in non-death penalty cases is not nearly as scrupulous. Everyone knows that there are innocent people behind bars today. If the legal system's flaws justify a moratorium on capital punishment, a fortiori they justify a moratorium on imprisonment. Those who call for a moratorium on executions should be calling just as vehemently for a moratorium on prison terms. Why don't they?


Because they know how ridiculous it would sound. If there are problems with the system, the system should be fixed, but refusing to punish criminals would succeed only in making society far less safe than it is today. [Capital Punishment Saves Lives 6 June 2002]

The same would be true of a moratorium on executions. If due process in capital murder cases can be made even more watertight, by all means let us do so. But not by keeping the worst of our murderers alive until perfection is achieved. We've been down the moratorium road before. We know how that experiment turns out. The results are written in wrenching detail on gravestones across the land. [Capital Punishment Saves Lives 6 June 2002]

That is a worthy goal, but it cannot be an absolute criterion. No worthwhile human endeavor is utterly foolproof. Dr. Bieber's hospital would have to shut down its operating rooms if surgeons had to guarantee their infallibility. Even at hospitals as renowned as the Brigham, patients sometimes die on the operating table because of blunders or inadvertence. Is that an argument for abolishing surgery? Should air travel be banned because innocent passengers may lose their lives in crashes? Should the pharmaceutical industry be shut down because the wrong drug or dosage, mistakenly taken or prescribed, can kill? [Execution saves innocents... by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe September 28, 2003]

To make the perfect the enemy of the good is irrational and counterproductive. The benefits of surgery, air travel, and prescription drugs are enormous -- far too valuable to give up even though we know that people will die because of the fallibility of doctors and pilots and people who handle medicine. The same is true of capital punishment: The benefits of a legal system in which judges and juries have the option of sentencing the cruelest or coldest murderers to death far outweigh the potential risk of executing an innocent person. And there is this added reassurance: The risk of an erroneous execution is infinitesimal, and getting smaller all the time.

And the benefits? First and foremost, the death penalty makes it possible for justice to be done to those who commit the worst of all crimes. The execution of a murderer sends a powerful moral message: that the innocent life he took was so precious, and the crime he committed so horrific, that he forfeits his own right to remain alive. [Execution saves innocents... by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe September 28, 2003]

When a vicious killer is sent to the electric chair or strapped onto a gurney for a lethal injection, society is condemning his crime with a seriousness and intensity that no other punishment achieves. By contrast, a society that sentences killers to nothing worse than prison -- no matter how depraved the killing or how innocent the victim -- is a society that doesn't really think murder is so terrible.

But there is more to executions than justice for the dead. There is also protection for the living. [Execution saves innocents... by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe September 28, 2003]

…the real threat to innocent life is not the availability of the death penalty, but the absence of one. For every time a murderer is executed, innocent lives are saved. [Execution saves innocents... by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe September 28, 2003]

The foes of capital punishment have denied for years that putting murderers to death has a deterrent effect on other potential killers. That has always flown in the face of common sense and history -- after all, wherever murder is made punishable by death, murder rates generally decline. But it also flies in the face of a lengthening shelf of research that confirms the death penalty's deterrent effect. [Execution saves innocents... by Jeff Jacoby The Boston Globe September 28, 2003]

Actually there have been close to 600,000 homicides in the United States since 1976, and the total climbs by roughly 15,000 each year. Where is the uproar over those round numbers? Where are the protests, the petitions, the Hollywood rallies aimed at stopping those deaths? I understand that some people think capital punishment is wrong as a matter of principle. What I cannot understand is how anyone can be more outraged by the lawful execution each year of a few dozen murderers than by the annual slaughter of thousands of victims at the hands of such murderers. (Misplaced sympathy for killers By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist | December 7, 2005)

Opponents of capital punishment make much of the theoretical possibility that an innocent defendant might be killed. What they never acknowledge is that the abolition of capital punishment guarantees that innocent victims will die. That isn't only because executing murderers has a powerful deterrent effect, as a number of recent studies confirm. It is also because prison bars can't keep some killers from killing again. (Misplaced sympathy for killers By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist | December 7, 2005)

Ultimately, the case for putting murderers like Williams and Boyd to death isn't just a practical one, strong though the practical arguments are. It is also a moral one. When the state executes a murderer, it is making a statement about the demands of justice and the sanctity of human life -- a statement as old as Genesis, and as essential as ever. (Misplaced sympathy for killers By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist | December 7, 2005)

"If you're saying that the worst that could happen to someone who commits a murder is that he spends time in prison, to me, that's like saying, 'Really, we don't consider murder to be that terrible.”

Jeff Jacoby (born February 10, 1959) is an American conservative syndicated newspaper columnist.

“If the criminal taking of a human life does not merit forfeiture of one's own life, then what value have we placed on the life taken?”

Pat Buchanan A.K.A Patrick Joseph "Pat" Buchanan (born November 2, 1938) is an American conservative political commentator, author, syndicated columnist, politician and broadcaster. Buchanan was a senior advisor to American Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, and was an original host on CNN's Crossfire. He sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996. He ran on the Reform Party ticket in the 2000 presidential election. He co-founded The American Conservative magazine and launched a foundation named The American Cause. He has been published in Human Events, National Review, The Nation and Rolling Stone. He was a political commentator on the MSNBC cable network, including the show Morning Joe until February 2012. Buchanan is a regular on The McLaughlin Group and now appears on Fox News.

The best arguments against the death penalty are two:

One, you might execute the wrong person. In the case of Palestinian terrorists acting and killing in the open, check this box: Argument not applicable.

Two, you engage in the very brutality that the murderer engages in. In the case of convicted murderers who will likely be released in these immoral prisoner exchanges, who express no regret, who — to the contrary — will do their best to kill innocent people again, check this box: Argument not applicable. [Death penalty for Palestinian terrorists Thursday, 20 October 2011 06:24 IJN Editorial Staff]

To make him a magnet for kidnapping, to make a mockery of his life sentence by letting him out, and to help him kill again, is totally different from the non-Palestinian-terrorist context; and totally transcends the argument that to execute him is to sink to his level of brutality. Exactly the opposite. To execute the Palestinian terrorist is to engage in the very purpose of the life sentence: the protection of the innocent. [Death penalty for Palestinian terrorists Thursday, 20 October 2011 06:24 IJN Editorial Staff]

The Intermountain Jewish News (IJN) is a weekly newspapers serving the Denver-Boulder communities and the greater Rocky Mountain Jewish community (Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming,Utah and Montana). The newspaper was founded in 1913 and had a series of editors before being taken over by Robert Gamzey and Max Goldberg in 1943. Since then the newspaper has been owned and operated by the Goldberg family. In addition to weekly publication, IJN publishes special editions approximately once a month, including three magazines: L'Chaim magazine (fall and spring) and Generations magazine (summer). Once every five years the IJN publishes a souvenir anniversary magazine. The 95th anniversary magazine was published July 7, 2008. As of 2008, Miriam Harris Goldberg is the editor and publisher and Rabbi Hillel Goldberg is executive editor. IJN is a member of the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) and the Colorado Press Association.
“When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that John Walker is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors.”

O.J. was 'proved innocent' too (Jewish World Review June 30, 2000) - The breathless reports of prisoners being released from death row after DNA testing is just the latest salvo from a movement that wants to end the imposition of the death penalty under any circumstances, for any murderer, no matter how heinous and no matter how guilty.

I notice that the people so anxious to return this sociopathic cop-killer to the street don't live in his neighborhood. There's a reason more than a dozen courts have looked at Davis' case and refused to overturn his death sentence. He is as innocent as every other executed man since at least 1950, which is to say, guilty as hell. [Cop killer is media's latest baby seal Posted: September 21, 2011]

Ann Hart Coulter (born December 8, 1961) is an American lawyer, conservative social and political commentator, author, and syndicated columnist. She frequently appears on television, radio, and as a speaker at public events and private events. Well-known for her right-wing political opinions and the controversial ways in which she defends them, Coulter has described herself as a polemicist who likes to "stir up the pot" and, unlike "broadcasters," does not "pretend to be impartial or balanced."

The anti-capital punishment faction, badly outnumbered in modern life, basically believes nobody should be executed for anything. A request for clemency, under this worldview, resembles an entitlement. Not to extend clemency is somehow an affront - to the changed behavior of the condemned, to the process of abstract justices. To something. [Opinion: Clemency critics mask true objectives by William Murchison Lone Star Report VOLUME 3, ISSUE 16 -- January 8, 1999]

What we don't need is more executions getting hung up longer in the great procedural machine the legislature is being asked to construct. We don't need it, that is, if we believe, as we seem to, that capital punishment punishes and deters in a manner that upholds civilized standards and reinforces the social peace. Death row's inmates are the worst of the worst to come through the criminal justice system. That, notwithstanding, they command reflexive sympathy is...scary. [Opinion: Clemency critics mask true objectives by William Murchison Lone Star Report VOLUME 3, ISSUE 16 -- January 8, 1999]

William Murchison is a nationally syndicated political columnist in the United States with The Dallas Morning News. Murchison is normally of a conservative political persuasion. He is also a regular contributor to Chronicles and The Lone Star Report. He is the author of several books including "Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity," and a volume about the mid-1990s rise of the religious right "Reclaiming Morality in America."

Joshua Micah Marshall, the Washington editor of The American Prospect, wrote an article in 2000 describing the state of affairs in Europe concerning the death penalty:

It's true that every industrialized nation, save Japan and the US, have abolished capital punishment, but the reason isn't as death-penalty opponents usually assume, that their populations eschew the death penalty. In fact, opinion polls show that Europeans and Canadians want executions almost as much as their American counterparts do. It's just that their politicians don't listen to them. In other words, if these countries' political cultures are less pro death penalty that America's, it's because they're less democratic.

Seen through American eyes, Canada seems almost totally nonviolent. And it's true that Ottawa administered its last execution in 1962 and formally abolished capital punishment for civilians in the mid-'70s (a ban on military executions came in 1998). But public support for the death penalty runs only slightly lower in Canada than in the United States: polls consistently show that between 60 percent and 70 percent of Canadians want it reinstated.

Differences in the way survey questions are framed complicate direct comparisons with Europe. (European polls sometimes pose the question in terms of the death penalty for terrorism, for genocide, for depraved sexual crimes, and so forth.) But, even if you ask the death-penalty question in the more straight forward sense--"Do you support the death penalty for aggravated murder?"--you find very few European countries where the public clearly opposes it, and there are a number where support is very strong. In Britain, the world headquarters of Amnesty International, opinion polls have shown that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the population favors the death penalty--about the same as in the United States. In Italy, which has led the international fight against capital punishment recently, roughly half the population wants it reinstated. In France, clear majorities continued to back the death penalty long after it was abolished in 1981. There is barely a country in Europe where the death penalty was abolished in response to public opinion rather than in spite of it.

How could this be? In a few cases, the reason is constitutional: Germany's and Italy's postwar constitutions abolished capital punishment outright, thus placing the issue effectively beyond public reach. Another factor is the centripetal pressure created by European integration, as cornerstone EU states like France and Germany force smaller newcomers to adopt "European" standards, like abolishing the death penalty. In other words, the newcomers succumb to political and economic blackmail when they join the EU.

Differences between European parliamentary government and the American separation-of-powers system also play a role. Parliamentary government may provide voters with more ideological variety, but it is much more resistant to political newcomers and fresh ideals which may support different political views. In parliamentary systems, people tend to vote for parties, not individuals; and party committees choose which candidates stand for election. As a result, parties are less influenced by the will of the people. In countries like Britain and France, so long as elite opinion remains sufficiently united (which, in the case of the death penalty, it has), public support cannot translate into legislative action. Since American candidates are largely independent and self-selected, they serve as a much more direct conduit between public opinion and actual political action.

Basically, then, Europe doesn't have the death penalty because its political systems are less democratic, or at least more insulated from public opinion, than the U.S. government. And elites know it. Referring to France, a recent article in the UNESCO Courier noted that "action by courageous political leaders has been needed to overcome local public opinion that has remained mostly in favour of the death penalty." When a 1997 poll showed that 49 percent of Swedes wanted the death penalty reinstated, the country's justice minister told a reporter: "They don't really want the death penalty; they are objecting to the increasing violence. I see this as a call to politicians and the justice system to do more."

An American attorney general--or any American politician, for that matter--could never get away with such condescension toward the public, at least not for attribution. Pundits and rival politicians would slam him, and, on most issues, liberals would be first in line. After all, liberals are attached to the idea that they speak for the "little guy," the "working family," or, in Al Gore's recent phraseology, "the people, not the powerful." But, all over the industrialized world, it turns out that most people favor the death penalty. It's just that in Europe and Canada elites have exercised a kind of noblesse oblige. They've chosen a more oligarchical political order over a fully popular and participatory one.

Joshua Micah Marshall (born February 15, 1969 in St. Louis, Missouri) is an American Polk Award-winning journalist who founded Talking Points Memo, which The New York Times Magazine called "one of the most popular and most respected sites" in the blogosphere. He currently presides over a network of sites that operate under the TPM Media banner and average 400,000 page views every weekday and 750,000 unique visitors every month.