On Idaho Republican Governor Brad Little’s campaign website, there’s a “Stand For Life” page with the following text: “Every single person – born and unborn – should have the opportunity to live the American Dream. Idaho unapologetically stands for life. Brad needs to know: Do you stand for life?”
Republican Governor Brad Little signed a bill allowing execution by firing squad, making Idaho the latest state to turn to older methods of capital punishment amid a nationwide shortage of lethal-injection drugs. The Legislature passed the measure March 20 with a veto-proof majority. Under it, firing squads will be used only if the state cannot obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections.
Because what better way to “stand for life” than to put your name on legislation that authorizes another means of putting people to death in your state, right?
Now, Governor Little isn’t the only Republican complicit in the adoption of this atrocious and barbaric legislation. As the excerpt above states, it was sent to him with a “veto-proof majority.” The Idaho Legislature is utterly dominated by Republicans, and a lot of Republicans inexplicably like to pair their “defense of the unborn” with gusto for killing people convicted of awful crimes.
But Little could have said no. He could have said: “I campaigned for governor on the platform that ‘every single person’ ought to ‘have the opportunity to live the American Dream.’ I believe Idaho stands for life and this bill is about death, so I’m going to veto it. You’ll have to pass it into law yourselves, I won’t help you.”
Sadly, he didn’t. Instead, he said:
While I am signing this bill, it is important to point out that fulfilling justice can and must be done by minimizing stress on corrections personnel… For the people on death row, a jury convicted them of their crimes, and they were lawfully sentenced to death. It is the responsibility of the state of Idaho to follow the law and ensure that lawful criminal sentences are carried out.
Laws, however, can be changed. Clemency can be granted. In Washington State, the death penalty as applied has been struck down as unconstitutional, and there’s a bill moving through the Legislature now to remove the RCW that allows prosecutors to seek death sentences and allows judges to let juries impose them.
Washington is done with executing people.
Idaho Republicans, meanwhile, are obsessed with trying to figure out how to ensure that people who have been condemned to death are killed.
They’ve just changed state law to say, if lethal drug cocktails aren’t available, let’s bring out a bunch of guys with guns and kill people that way!
Idaho Republicans are most definitely not trying to change their state’s laws to abolish executions. They could be, but they are choosing not to be. It’s a choice.
If you’re for executing people, then you aren’t, and cannot be, “pro-life.” End of story. It’s not possible to “stand for life” when you’re for ending people’s lives.
There are some Republicans who oppose the death penalty on religious or moral grounds, in addition to opposing reproductive healthcare and death with dignity. But in so many places — Idaho included — they appear to be in the minority.
Little and Idaho Republicans seem to be taking their cues from Donald Trump, the pathological liar and insurrectionist inciter who still heads their party.
Before Donald Trump left office, he and Bill Barr and their minions at the Department of Justice sadistically tried to get as many people killed as possible, a killing spree detailed by Rolling Stone and other media outlets.
Rolling Stone’s January 27th piece begins by telling the story of Brandon Bernard, who was convicted for the 1999 robbery, kidnapping, and murder of Todd and Stacy Bagley. Bernard was one of more than a dozen people on death row that Trump and Barr made sure were executed despite efforts to save their lives.
By 9:27 PM [on December 20th, 2020] Bernard was dead. In that moment, he became the ninth of thirteen people executed in the final six months of the Trump administration — more federal executions than in the previous ten administrations combined.
Of the thirteen, six were put to death after Trump lost the election, his Justice Department accelerating the schedule to ensure they would die before the incoming administration could intercede.
Before Trump, there had been only three federal executions since 1963; in January 2021, Trump oversaw three executions during a single four-day stretch. Two years before that stretch, Trump had signed perhaps the lone broadly popular major initiative of his presidency: a bipartisan criminal-justice reform bill.
By 2020, however, his political calculus had changed. As he geared up for another election, Trump White House sources say, the president was telling advisers that carrying out capital punishment would insulate him from criticism that he was soft on crime. And in his attorney general, Bill Barr, a longtime death-penalty advocate, he had the perfect accomplice.
The executions, carried out in the name of law and order, took place at a time of peak lawlessness within the White House. While his administration killed prisoners at an unprecedented clip, Trump spent his final months attempting to overturn the 2020 election, culminating in the January 6 ransacking of the U.S. Capitol. And though Trump did show some mercy on his way out the door, it was largely reserved for political cronies such as Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.
NPI will keep working for a future in which death row is abolished — and not just in Washington, but in Oregon, Idaho, and throughout the United States.