Why conservatives should oppose the death penalty

Roy Brown Former Montana State Senator
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As a conservative Republican, I believe in individual rights, restraints on government power, fiscal responsibility and the right to life. America’s death penalty system violates each of these principles. That’s why I’m one of a growing number of conservatives who want to abolish it.

There is no deeper violation of a citizen’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than their own government killing them when they’re actually innocent. And with the death penalty, as with all government programs, mistakes are inevitable. At last count, more than 140 death row inmates had been set free after evidence was discovered proving they were wrongfully convicted, often decades after they were sentenced to die. Common sense tells us that innocent people have been executed in the past. Speeding up the process to “repair the system” has proven to put even more innocent lives at risk — and with capital punishment, mistakes can’t be reversed.

Capital punishment is bad for murder victims’ families, too — it subjects them to a long, drawn-out legal process. When prosecutors pursue the death penalty, victims’ families are made to endure decades of uncertainty and countless court appearances, forcing them to relive their relatives’ murders over and over. There is no way to make capital punishment swift and sure.

The death penalty is costly for taxpayers. Legal expenses alone make each death penalty case much more expensive than a case where a criminal is sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The death penalty’s waste and inefficiency is rivaled by few other government programs. That we continue to fund the death penalty should be offensive to anyone who believes in fiscal responsibility.

Like most conservatives, I value the sanctity of human life from the womb to natural death. The same principles that motivate me to oppose abortion also motivate me to oppose the death penalty. All life is valuable and the only way we can ensure an innocent person is never executed is by ending the death penalty. And in cases where the defendant is guilty, we cannot forget the gospel’s message of redemption and call for mercy.

Conservatives have lots of compelling reasons to question the death penalty. Even many who still support capital punishment in theory are beginning to concede that the system is fatally broken and should be scrapped, with the savings returned to the taxpayers. Conservatives should weigh what we know today against the values and principles that have always defined us.

The time has come for conservatives to take the lead in ending expensive government programs that don’t work. The death penalty system is broken and can’t be fixed. Let’s end it.

Roy Brown is a former Montana state senator, a former majority leader of the Montana House of Representatives, and the 2008 Republican nominee for governor in Montana. Brown is also a founding member of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.