Hillary and the Death Penalty


Hillary, Eleanor Roosevelt would love you.

—Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, February 6, Purchase, New York

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ‘official’ declaration of how privileged we will be if she is the next senator from New York had all the trappings of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics—with Moynihan ending his career in the Senate by passing the torch to her.

All that was missing was Janet Reno singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

During that afternoon of beatification, Hillary’s acolytes told the throng that as soon as HRC occupied her White House office, she hung a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt on the wall.

Indeed, HRC has revealed that she has been in communication with Eleanor Roosevelt—through a form of “channeling.”

She has not revealed whether Eleanor Roosevelt, during those inspirational moments, informed HRC of her fervent, long-lasting opposition to the death penalty.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, like her husband, is an unbending supporter of capital punishment. And no administration in our history has done more to speed executions.

In 1996, the president pushed for and signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. This law gutted the oldest fundamental right in the English-speaking world—habeas corpus, which allows prisoners to try to prove they’ve been wrongfully convicted. When James Madison was writing a draft of the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson urged him to make sure that habeas corpus was clearly in that document, and so it is.

The way habeas corpus works for those on death row is that it allows lawyers—after all their post-conviction appeals have failed in the state courts—to find a federal judge to review the condemned man or woman’s court record. Did the prosecution hide exculpatory evidence? Did crucial prosecution witnesses later recant and admit they lied? Is there new evidence to prove the defendant’s innocence?

Clinton and the Republicans in Congress, along with loyal Democrats, arranged to give people on death row only one year—with rare exceptions—to find a federal judge to grant their petition for habeas corpus.

Since 1976, when capital punishment resumed in this country, 618 people have been executed—and that number will go up this week. Eighty-five other condemned prisoners—some only hours away from execution—have been released because they were wrongfully convicted and finally got a federal or state judge to hear them. The average time these nearly doomed men spent on death row was seven and a half years.

If they had been put on death row after the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was signed into law by Clinton, many of the 85 prisoners would be dead.

It is sad that Pat Moynihan is ending a truly distinguished career by anointing this “New Democrat,” as she proudly proclaims herself. In 1996, Moynihan vehemently opposed Clinton’s evisceration of habeas corpus in that law.

Afterward, expressing his disgust that only a handful of senators had voted with him against this violation of so basic a right, Moynihan then denounced the indifference of the press to this reverse landmark in American history.

“Except for you,” Moynihan said to me, “where was the press?”

For another example of HRC’s and Moynihan’s revising the history concerning Eleanor Roosevelt, there is Hillary’s strong support of her husband’s “welfare reform” law.

As Senator Paul Wellstone has said on the Senate floor: “Over two-thirds of a million low-income persons lost Medicaid coverage and became uninsured due to welfare reform. Sixty-two percent were children. Moreover, the number of people who lose health coverage due to welfare reform is certain to grow rather substantially in the years ahead. In every state there is a drop-dead certain date when families are going to be eliminated from all assistance.” (Emphasis added.)

The Clinton “welfare reform” law mandates a five-year cumulative lifetime cap on the benefits. You are off the rolls forever. The “safety net” that Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband worked so hard to get into law has been torn apart by William Jefferson Clinton—to the applause of his wife.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan opposed the Clintons’ Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act—their “welfare reform” law. When it was passed, Moynihan called it “the most brutal act of social policy since Reconstruction.”

With regard to Eleanor Roosevelt and capital punishment, Allida Black, a history professor at George Washington University, is an expert chronicler. (Her book, Casting Her Own Shadow, is published by Columbia University Press.)

Professor Black tells me that starting in the 1940s, Eleanor Roosevelt was involved in trying to get the president, her husband, to stop executions. And she powerfully came out against the death penalty in the 1950s.

“Eleanor Roosevelt was convinced,” says Professor Black, “that the death penalty was not equally enforced when it came to blacks, and she also had moral objections to capital punishment.”

My friend Steve Bright is an active lawyer for people on death row, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and a lecturer at Yale Law School. As he says:

“We are sentencing to death children, we are sentencing to death people with mental retardation, we are sentencing to death the mentally ill. The death penalty has become class warfare, being fought top-down against the poorest and most powerless people in our society.”

I would vote for either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Rudy Giuliani, for the Senate or any office, only under torture. So far as the presidency is concerned, thank the Constitution Ralph Nader is running.