EDITORIALS: California Newspapers Overwhelmingly Support Ballot Initiative to Abolish Death Penalty

Newspaper editorial boards in California are overwhelmingly supporting a November ballot initiative to abolish the state's death penalty and replace it with life without parole plus restitution, and are uniformly rejecting an opposing initiative that purports to speed up the appeals process. At least eight California newspapers have published editorials supporting Proposition 62 and opposing Proposition 66, and Ballotpedia reports that it is aware of no editorial boards that have supported Proposition 66. A Los Angeles Times editorial characterizes the death penalty as "both immoral and inhumane," adding, "[e]ven those who do not object to capital punishment on principle ought to support abolition because of the system’s inefficiency, exorbitant costs and long delays. Proponents of Proposition 66 say they can speed up the process and make the death penalty work, but there are serious doubts that their proposal would achieve the kind of fast-tracking they promise, and critics argue persuasively that the system might become even more expensive." The San Francisco Chronicle writes that "all sides agree [California's death penalty] has produced enormous legal bills, no semblance of deterrence to would-be murderers and too little justice to victims’ loved ones over the past four decades." It says Prop. 62 "offers a straightforward and certain solution," while criticizing Prop. 66 as "a highly complex, probably very expensive and constitutionally questionable scheme for streamlining the appeals process." Many of the editorials are particularly critical of Prop. 66's proposal to conscript appellate lawyers to represent death row inmates. The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat's critique is representative: "Rather than funding an expansion of the state public defender’s office, which handles almost all death penalty appeals, Proposition 66 would require all attorneys who practice in California appellate courts, regardless of specialty and training, to accept judicial appointments to capital cases. Claims of inattentive and incompetent counsel already are common in death penalty appeals, and conscripting lawyers would only invite more such challenges." The Bakersfield Californian, which offered no opinion on Prop. 34, California's prior ballot initiative to abolish the death penalty, has also weighed in on the death penalty this year, calling for an end to the state's "costly, toothless death penalty." Other newspapers urging voters to vote yes on Prop. 62 and no on Prop. 66 included Monterey Herald, the Bay Area News Group (Mercury News and East Bay Times), and the Santa Clarita Valley Signal. [UPDATE: Additional editorial boards have come out in favor of Proposition 62 and against Proposition 66 (see below). To date, we are unaware of any editorial support for Proposition 66.]

(Editorial, "Props 62 and 66: California voters should end the death penalty, not speed it up," Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2016; Editorial, "Fight crime, not futility: Abolish death penalty," San Francisco Chronicle, August 25, 2016; Editorial, "Death penalty: Yes on Prop 62, No on Prop 66," The Press Democrat, September 15, 2016; Editorial, "End toothless, costly death penalty: Yes on Prop. 62; no on 66," The Bakersfield Californian, September 18, 2016; Editorial, "Death penalty: Yes on 62, no on Prop. 66," Monterey Herald, September 8, 2016; Editorial, "Our View: Yes on Prop 62," Santa Clarita Daily Signal, August 20, 2016; Editorial, "Abolish the death penalty; Vote yes on Proposition 62," Bay Area News Group, July 14, 2016.) [UPDATE—Additional editorials: Editorial, "Yes on Proposition 62, no on Proposition 66," Chico Enterprise-Record, October 5, 2016; Editorial, "Prop. 62 (Death Penalty) • Yes Prop. 66 (Death Penalty. Procedures) • No," Santa Barbara Independent, October 6, 2016; Editorial, "End the Illusion: Abolish the Death Penalty," Sacramento Bee, October 7, 2016. See Editorials and Recent Legislation.