The state of Nebraska abolishes the death penalty

29 May 2015, 14:26 UTC | Americas
By Christy Hargesheimer - Death Penalty Action Coordinator, Amnesty International USA

Today Nebraska becomes the 19th state in the USA to abolish the death penalty. This repeal was made possible by voting to override the Governor’s veto!

Nebraska was the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty in the modern era, in 1979, but the bill failed to survive the governor’s veto. Subsequently, there were three executions in the 1990s, the last one being in 1997.

In 1999 a legislative moratorium bill passed, but was vetoed. In its place, a study was authorized, to be conducted by David C. Baldus of Iowa. The study concluded that the death penalty was arbitrarily applied, depending more on geography, class, race, and the discretion of prosecutors than on fairness.

In 2008, the State Supreme Court ruled that the use of the electric chair was deemed ”cruel and unusual punishment” because at that time Nebraska was the only place on earth that had electrocution as our sole method of execution. Lethal injection replaced the electric chair as the means of execution, but since legal procurement of drugs has eluded the state, the death penalty has essentially been put on hold.

Finally, in 2013, there were enough votes for abolition, but not enough to overcome a filibuster. But this year, after decades of struggle, we had the votes to halt a filibuster, and the bill sponsored by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who has fought for abolition for some 40 years, finally saw its way to final passage.

Many religious voices (including the Pope and the Dalai Lama) have supported repeal. Law officers, and even some prosecutors, a former Nebraska judge, and former wardens from other states have said that it’s time to move on. Amnesty International USA supported the cause, with phone banks and email alerts asking Nebraska’s Amnesty International members to contact their legislators.

Thank you all for your support. The tidal wave of abolition is continuing to sweep over the United States, and soon the death penalty will be relegated to the history books where it belongs.

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