Policy Topics

“Pro-life” Idaho Republican Governor Brad Little just signed a firing squad execution bill

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?”

I thought of that rhetoric today when I read this news:

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.

NPI’s research has pre­vi­ous­ly found that enor­mous majori­ties of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers sup­port life in prison alter­na­tives to the death penalty. 

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.

Andrew Villeneuve

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