Opinion

OPINION: Gavin Newsom Disregards The Rule Of Law To Halt California Executions

REUTERS/Mike Blake

Nicholas Waddy Associate Professor of History, SUNY Alfred

Just a few months ago, Gavin Newsom, during his campaign for governor of California, declared that the death penalty was the law of the land, and he would respect the clearly expressed will of California voters and would not therefore obstruct the enforcement of the death penalty.

Now, though, the election is over, Gavin Newsom is the governor of our most populous state, and he reserves the right to have a change of heart. He has, as a matter of fact, put an indefinite halt to all executions in California — not on procedural grounds, but due to the dictates of his conscience. The California death penalty has been snuffed out, because California’s governor finds it odious.

Newsom gives two main reasons for his decision. First, he says that most of the people on death row are black and Hispanic. He says this calls into question the fairness of our criminal justice system. He fails to mention, however, that most murders and other capital crimes in California are committed by blacks and Hispanics, so their over-representation on death row reflects their over-representation in violent crime statistics generally. Newsom, though, would like to apply the tired liberal logic of racial quotas to the death penalty, and, since he can’t do that, he’d rather throw out the whole system.

Newsom, curiously, isn’t troubled by the fact that the overwhelming majority of death row inmates are men. A reflexive assumption of gender bias seems not to apply, in this case. Imagine that.

The other reason Newsom gives for scrapping the death penalty is its finality. The criminal justice system makes mistakes, he points out, and once someone has been executed by the state there is no way to make amends. In this respect he is right, but the same logic applies to long terms of imprisonment.

A man or woman imprisoned for decades but suddenly and miraculously found innocent in their

sunset years could be released. But their life, for all practical purposes, would still have been taken from them. Gavin’s argument, therefore, could lead us to conclude that virtually any form of punishment is unfair, because it could potentially be inflicted on the innocent. That is no reason, however, to spare the guilty. Our legal system employs the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” for excellent reasons. Most of the time, our juries and our judges get it right.

Newsom, sadly, is not unique in arrogating to himself the right to decide what is just, and therefore what is lawful. Democrats nationwide have essentially declared our immigration laws null and void, as they extend “sanctuary,” as well as legal assistance and generous benefits programs, to illegal immigrants. The Democratic House of Representatives practices a similarly selective standard of justice as it seeks to work backward from the premise “All Trumps are criminals” to discover which crimes each individual Trump may have committed. Meanwhile, almost every lawful action taken by President Trump is blocked by “Obama judges” and snarled in months of litigation.

To be fair, though, the ground was prepared for this sort of legalistic sophistry long ago by liberals on the Supreme Court, who rewrote the Constitution on the assumption that it was an “evolving” document. If, therefore, the Founding Fathers failed to insert a line in the Constitution about, say, the right to an abortion, the liberals claimed it was only because the right was implied — or, in a pinch, it could be conjured into existence, based on the supposedly self-evident moral case for abortion on demand. Less and less often was the strict wording of the Constitution itself, or the intent of the framers, considered relevant.

The rule of law, in the hands of the current crop of Democratic governors, mayors, judges, congressmen and women, and potentially even — gasp! — a Democratic president can by no means be considered secure. This is because, increasingly, Democrats and liberals refuse to enforce the laws they do not like, and they effectively rewrite (or re-imagine) the laws and constitutional provisions that are already in place to achieve whatever legal and social outcome they find congenial.

What is “justice” to Gavin Newsom? It is a world in which the law is a vehicle to permit government to reward those who are favored and to punish those who are not. That is, by any conventional understanding of the rule of law in the Western tradition, the very abnegation of the law itself.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Rochester in New York.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.