On Tuesday, lawmakers in Illinois passed a bill repealing the death penalty in Illinois. The bill awaits approval on the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn. In Illinois, the death penalty has been paused since then-governor George Ryan placed it on moratorium 11 years ago. Gov. Quinn is said to support the death penalty, but refuses to reinstate it until he feels the justice system has been fixed and the probability of wrongly executing a person has been nullified. He is also currently under heavy scrutiny because of an ongoing debate over a huge tax increase in Illinois. Because of this, the bill might never leave his desk.
But what if it’s passed? What kind of precedent might it set for the rest of the US?
Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment. Some states, such as Texas, continue to issue the death penalty despite its controversial nature.
Why is it controversial? Much of the discussion surrounding the death penalty is related to wrongful executions, or situations in which persons were wrongfully convicted of a crime and given the death penalty. Many feel that the justice system makes too many mistakes to put a potentially innocent person’s life at risk. This is a rational claim, as Illinois itself has removed 20 wrongfully convicted people from death row since 1987. Others oppose capital punishment on moral grounds, claiming it violates civil rights.
Repealing the death penalty now might have less popularity now, given that the recent Arizona shooting is still in memory. This raises a double standard, as some who regularly oppose the death penalty often support it in times of crisis and mass slayings.
Some argue that if Illinois, an industrialized and heavily populated state, repeals the death penalty, other states on the fence might repeal it as well. This might not be the case. Unlike smoking bans, which have very straightforward public heath implications, it is unlikely to cause a domino effect.
If you recall, even the smoking ban was heavily debated before blanketing much of the US, and even today is absent in some stronghold states. It also continues to receive very vocal opposition. If a ban which is so clearly in favor of public health can have so much trouble sweeping the country, then there is no clear evidence to support the notion that such a controversial issue like the outlawing of capital punishment might garner more national favor.
The passing of the bill repealing the death penalty in Illinois still might set a different precedent, however. It might finally bring much-needed light to the flaws of our justice system, which continues to place wrongfully convicted persons in jail and on death row. Capital punishment may never be outlawed throughout the entire United States, but at the very least it might bring conversation and reform to our justice system.