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California should ban death penalty

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It’s hard to get executions right.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court denied appeals by Louisiana and Missouri death row inmates who argued that they were entitled to know the source of the drugs with which they are to be executed, and that denial of that information compromises their right to due process. It’s unclear why the court refused to hear the cases, but the underlying argument remains potent. Another challenge is underway in Oklahoma, where two inmates are seeking stays of execution because state officials have revised protocols on the fly as the lethal drugs they usually use have become more difficult to obtain.

This could well become a problem for California too, which is in the process of selecting a new way to kill the condemned.

This page opposes the death penalty as barbaric and immoral, the irreversible end result of an often flawed judicial process. While most of the industrialized world has done away with the practice, 32 states and the U.S. government still pursue it.

Many states, though, are having trouble procuring drugs because manufacturers are increasingly refusing to sell to executioners. Some states have turned to compounding pharmacies, which ordinarily customize drugs for patients for whom manufacturers’ drugs don’t work. A subset of those states have adopted laws barring public disclosure of the compounding pharmacies to preclude protests.

This is wrong, as we’ve said before in the Oklahoma case. If the government insists on executing its citizens, it must do so in as transparent a way as possible, so that death row inmates can know whether their punishment violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

And that goes for California too. In 2006, a federal judge blocked the state’s three-drug execution method on the grounds that it might violate the Eighth Amendment by causing extreme pain. The state drafted a new protocol in 2010, but after a lengthy legal wrangle over regulatory processes, it announced last July that it would drop its appeal and devise a new single-drug protocol. Corrections officials said recently that the new protocol remained in development, with no timeline for completion.

The new protocol should be worked out with both the U.S. Constitution and transparency in mind. And maybe before this macabre work is finished, Californians — who rejected a 2012 initiative to ban the death penalty — will embrace the liberal and humane worldview for which the state is famous, and end the practice.

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