Editorial

DEATH PENALTY SHOULD NOT BE DECIDED BY QUOTA

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E Pluribus Unum.

"Out of many, one." This is, of course, the motto of the United States, representing our highest aspirations to citizenship in a nation of many diverse cultures. Taking the best of all these cultures, we blend them, becoming Americans, thus fulfilling what our founders called Novus Ordo Seclorum, or "A New Order for the Ages."

The truly revolutionary meaning of this New Order was that for the first time in world history, a new nation was formed whose guiding credo, imperfectly but stubbornly adhered to, is that it doesn't matter who your parents are. Instead, each citizen will be measured by his own character, by his own abilities, by his own willingness to work hard and sacrifice and achieve. Was this ever perfect, in practice? No. Is it flawed, in reality? Of course. But this was the aspiration.

In recent years, a chorus of voices has arisen to claim that the (Ital.) only (Unital.) thing that matters is who your parents were. The only thing that matters, according to these false prophets, is your race, your gender, your ethnicity, your claim to membership in one or another aggrieved and accredited victim sub-groups.

This is a revolutionary overturning of the original American ideal. This is the real meaning of the movement toward multiculturalism, and toward group-based separatism and the claims of group-based rights, rather than the original American ideal of rights and obligations inhering in individuals.

A provision of the new federal crime bill can be understood as a variation on this alarming trend. In the House version of the major crime bill now moving through Congress is a provision that is extremely disturbing: a racial quota system regarding punishment in capital cases. In the Orwellian manner of Big Governments everywhere, this noxious provision is called "The Racial Justice Act". This RJA was left in the bill when a motion to strike it failed on a tie vote of 212-212. The fact that this provision could win a majority vote in the U.S. House of Representatives is shocking evidence of how far we have come down this sad old road, the very road the American founding turned us away from more than two centuries ago.

The RJA has very little to do with racial justice, and much to do with blocking death sentences. It would establish a quota system for capital punishment that will lead to the constitutionally perverse result of making race the most important factor when a prosecutor decides to seek the death penalty. For example, a prosecutor will have to ponder whether that jurisdiction (state or locality) has met its racial quota for capital sentences. In other words, whether another criminal who would otherwise not have received the death sentence will receive one because of his race. This would seriously undermine the perception and reality of a color-blind system of justice.

Amazingly, the RJA would apply retroactively, potentially freeing some 3,800 murderers now on death row. It would actually force the government to prove a negative: that racial factors had nothing to do with the capital sentence. This burden of proving a negative will effectively end the death penalty, if not outright, then by making a death sentence so expensive to seek that no state will do it.

Fortunately, the Senate has been more sensible. That body rejected the RJA by a wide, bipartisan vote. Their position must prevail in the House-Senate conference, or there should be no bill.

On certain points there can be no compromise, no "middle ground." Let us express it as simply as possible: There can be only one standard for American citizenship, not one that applies differently to different racial groups. The inclusion of racial quotas in a criminal justice bill says, "ignore the facts of a given case, the execution of punishment must occur in a racially proportionate manner." We reject the injection of racism into the sentencing process for criminal cases.