To say that liberals and conservatives disagree about the death penalty would be an understatement. To complicate matters more, there is strong disagreement concerning the death penalty within both the liberal and conservative schools of American political thought. When a political issue is as hotly debated as the death penalty, it is often the best course of action to start with the most important legal document in this country, the Constitution.
Under the eighth amendment of the Constitution, it is required that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The “cruel and unusual punishment” clause is in need of further examination.
Is the death penalty unusual? Regardless of one’s political opinion on the death penalty, the answer to this question seems fairly obvious. Capital punishment is almost as old as society itself. It is hard to characterize this punishment as unusual or somehow out of the ordinary. In fact, capital punishment seems to be quite the ordinary practice in our legal society.
Now, is the death penalty cruel? Though this question is not nearly as clear as the one it follows, it is clear that our founding fathers didn’t believe that it was. The authors of the Bill of Rights show in the fifth amendment that capital punishment is certainly an acceptable practice. Twice in the fifth amendment the potential loss of life as a punishment is mentioned and the notion of a capital crime begins the amendment. In a purely legal sense, it seems obvious that the founding fathers were in favor of the death penalty as a potential means of punishment.
The federal government provides states with the option of employing the death penalty. The beauty of the American political system is that a state does have the power to prohibit the death penalty if its citizens deem the punishment too harsh or immoral. Ultimately, though, according to the federal government, the death penalty is a perfectly appropriate punishment.
After spending the majority of this piece developing the legal grounds for capital punishment, I do have some serious concessions to make. The current system is flawed. The statistics about race and the death penalty are appalling. If the racism in the system wasn’t enough, there are issues with the high expenses of a capital punishment case and with the manner in which the capital punishment is carried out. The death penalty itself is not the issue, it is the current administration of the death penalty in America that is really at fault.