Hot-Button Issue: The Death Penalty


The death penalty remains a big divide between the candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties, on the one hand, and the Green and Libertarian parties on the other. Here’s how the candidates stand on this major issue.

George W. Bush, Republican: The Texas governor strongly supports the death penalty. In recent years, Texas has had more executions than any other state, and permits capital punishment for juveniles and the mentally retarded.

Confronted with investigations that show innocent people have gone to their deaths in Texas, Bush defended his record: “All I can tell you is that the four years I’ve been governor, I am confident we have not executed an innocent person, and I’m confident that the system has worked to make sure there is full access to the courts.” He continued, “There is no doubt in my mind that each person who has been executed in our state was guilty of the crime committed.”

Al Gore, Democrat: The vice president attempts to strike a more compassionate note than the one carried by Shrub, but Gore’s position is essentially the same. “I support the death penalty,” he says. “I respect the strong feelings of those who oppose the death penalty, but I believe it is an appropriate and effective punishment for certain offenses.

“I strongly support, however, the use of new DNA techniques that can make our criminal justice system fairer and more accurate. I believe that we must take every possible precaution to ensure the integrity and fairness of the system when we apply this ultimate penalty. We must be vigilant in not allowing race, class, or absence of competent counsel to have any influence in such crucial decisions.”

In 1994 he backed the $30 billion crime bill, which reclassified more than 50 federal crimes as capital offenses. He opposes a moratorium on the death penalty. A recent Columbia University study revealed that about two-thirds of death-penalty trials since 1973 were marked by serious mistakes. In response Gore stated, “If there is a study that shows a large number of mistakes, that has to make you uncomfortable. I have assumed up until very recently that the mistakes were rare and unusual.”

Ralph Nader, Green Party: He strongly opposes the death penalty. “Since I was a law student, I have been against the death penalty,” Nader says. “It does not deter. It is severely discriminatory against minorities, especially since they’re given no competent legal counsel in many cases. It’s a system that has to be perfect. You cannot execute one innocent person.”

The Green Party candidate believes society should pay more attention to protecting the environment and cleaning up pollution, which he argues claims more lives than violent crime. He supports a moratorium during which there would be an effort to determine how many prisoners now awaiting execution were inadequately represented at trial and to review the process to ensure that race does not enter the equation.

Pat Buchanan, Reform Party: Buchanan says his position on the death penalty depends on the nature of any given offense. He supports execution in cases where the crime committed is vicious and heinous, but does not support the death penalty in cases where there is any question as to the guilt of a particular criminal. He believes that a judge who has “any serious doubt in his mind or in his heart whether (the defendant) actually perpetrated (a) crime ought not to impose the death penalty.”

Harry Browne, Libertarian: On this issue, Browne sticks to the Libertarian platform, which opposes the death penalty. “As life cannot be restored to a person who has been wrongfully executed,” the document reads, “we oppose the death penalty in all cases.”