Shortly before leaving her chambers for the holidays, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a former prosecutor who was appointed to her state’s highest court by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), became the latest high-ranking official to question whether her state should continue to impose a death penalty:
“I don’t think it is working,” said Cantil-Sakauye, elevated from the Court of Appeal in Sacramento to the California Supreme Court by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It’s not effective. We know that.”
California’s death penalty requires “structural change, and we don’t have the money to create the kind of change that is needed,” she said. “Everyone is laboring under a staggering load.” . . .
“I don’t know if the question is whether you believe in it anymore. I think the greater question is its effectiveness and given the choices we face in California, should we have a merit-based discussion on its effectiveness and costs?”
Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s comments are just the latest sign that our national consensus is moving away from state-sponsored executions. Although most Americans continue to support the practice, a recent poll found support for the death penalty at a 39 year low and the number of death sentences declined below 100 this year for the first time in over three decades. Illinois recently abolished its death penalty and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) declared a moratorium on executions while he is in office.
Californians will soon have the opportunity to follow Illinois’ lead. Petition signatures are currently being collected for a ballot initiative which will abolish the death penalty in that state as well.