The United States Supreme Court in 1976 concluded that “evolving standards of decency” in the country tolerated the death penalty. In recent years, however, six states have established a new trend toward abolition. Since 2007, the death penalty has been repealed in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois, and Connecticut.
Today, Nebraska continued the country’s trend away from the death penalty by becoming the seventh state to abolish capital punishment in the past eight years.
Nebraska’s legislature last week passed a bill which replaces the death penalty with a sentence of life imprisonment. Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill yesterday. Thirty votes are required to override a veto in Nebraska. The legislature today overrode the veto.
In addition to Nebraska, several states have taken steps toward abolition in the last couple of years. Delaware's Senate passed a bill to abolish the death penalty earlier this year, which prompted Governor Jack Markell to announce his support for ending the death penalty and urge the House to pass the bill. New Hampshire legislators also have come very close to passing legislation that would end capital punishment.
The death penalty repeal in Nebraska was supported by conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons and say it is a waste of taxpayer money.
"This is not a conservative/liberal issue," Senator Tommy Carrett of Bellevue said. Rather, it's "a matter of conscience," and for him, a pro-life issue. Senator Adam Morfeld of Lincoln said the death penalty represents "vengeance, not justice."
Nebraska is the first Republican-controlled state to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973. Overall, it is the nineteenth state to ban capital punishment.
The efforts and arguments of Nebraska conservatives are part of an emerging trend in the Republican Party, evidenced by the involvement of conservative Republicans in legislative efforts to repeal the death penalty in other states, such as Kansas, Kentucky, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.