Yesterday across the county opponents of the death penalty cheered and well should we all. According to US District Court Judge Cormac Carney, California’s death penalty violates the constitutional rights of the condemned under the Eighth Amendment. Not only does this decision offer much needed ammunition in the battle to end the death penalty, but it also—quite literally—leads to a possible reprieve for the more than 700 people sitting on death row in one of the nation’s largest carceral states.
Why did Judge Carney rule that California must immediately halt the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones? In short, because, he noted, people like Jones sit on death row for decades after they have been sentenced and, thus, endure the “threat” of death for years on end.
So today, here we sit in an odd place. If we are lucky, yesterday’s ruling might get us back to Furman since, as the Jones case shows, the death penalty is clearly arbitrary. But even if we do, we are by no means out of the woods.
If we keep picking at this punishment around the margins—quibbling with how effectively it is administered, or how swiftly it is implemented, or about which citizens it is most often applied against, we merely invite its permanence.
As long as someone can simply try to work out the bugs of the death penalty, it will never, ever, be abolished.