Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of an executive order temporarily ended capital punishment in his state, relieving inmates part of the largest death row “in the Western hemisphere” while Newsom is in office.
The order impacts 737 inmates on death row, the “largest death row in the Western Hemisphere, the largest death row in the United States of America,” according to Newsom. This puts California in lockstep with the Democratic Party’s more progressive plank, which increasingly equates the death penalty with criminal justice reforms more broadly, viewing its continuation as a civil rights injustice, The New York Times reported Sunday.
A number of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have been rallying around Newsom’s order, including Democratic California Sen. Kamala Harris, who opposes capital punishment, but previously “refused to take a stand on ballot initiatives that proposed to abolish it” in 2012 and 2016, according to TheNYT.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke also voiced his general opposition to capital punishment, calling it “not an equitable, fair, just system right now — the guarantees and safeguards against wrongful prosecution, the disproportionate number of people of color who comprise our criminal justice system.” O’Rourke said he would suspend it on the federal level if elected president.
When Newsom announced the moratorium last month, President Trump criticized his decision on twitter, saying: “Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!”
While it may come surprising to some because of California’s liberal reputation, opposition to capital punishment has not been popular among the state’s residents.
In 2014, voters shot down a proposal to end the death penalty by 4 points — an outcome that was matched by an even larger margin in 2016, when voters once again struck it down by 6.4 points and also passed a ballot initiative to expedite executions.
Despite these trends, more and more Democrat Party leaders are embracing a nationwide suspension on capital punishment. The New York times referred to this change as a “generational shift,” citing the 2016 national party platform’s unprecedented call to abolish the death penalty.
Hillary Clinton supported the death penalty as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2016, likely being the last primary nominee to do so. By 2020, all major Democratic candidates are poised to be against capital punishment, following national trends.
Based on the results of an October 2018 Gallup poll, more Americans still favor capital punishment “for a person convicted of murder,” with 56 percent voicing approval versus 41 percent opposed.
But the latest figures represent the lowest approval among Americans since the 1970s, and continue a steady rate of decline when support for capital punishment peaked at 80 percent in the mid 1990s. Among Democrats specifically, 35% approve and 59% are opposed to capital punishment, per the results of a 2018 Pew Poll.
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