A recent editorial in the Dallas Morning News highlighted the voices of prominent conservatives who now oppose capital punishment, including former Texas Congressman Ron Paul and conservative political leader Richard Viguerie. The paper noted the new partnership between the student-centered organization Young Americans for Liberty and Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. The editorial described why one Texas conservative, Pat Monks, a Republican precinct chairman in Harris County (Houston), changed his mind on the death penalty: “Ultimately …. [t]he impossibility of eradicating human error from the system hit home to him…. he came to see no deterrent value for a punishment that’s imposed unevenly at an intolerable expense to the public.” Read the full editorial below.

Editorial: Conservatives vs. the death penalty

Published: 29 November 2013 05:05 PM Updated: 30 November 2013 12:08 PM

Opposition to the death penalty is not just the province of the political left.

This year has seen the emergence of a new national group, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, which has been assembling a network of like-minded activists since its debut at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March in National Harbor, Md. This month, the conservative group announced a partnership with a Ron Paul-inspired, campus-centered organization, the Young Americans for Liberty.

The driving principles are capital punishment’s incompatibility with the conservative ideals of restraining government, protecting life and maintaining fiscal responsibility.

The political right has teamed up with the left to push “smart on crime” reforms in sentencing and incarceration, among other issues. From the standpoint of this newspaper and our opposition to the death penalty, that same political axis could be key to making further inroads as more states consider joining the 18 that have already abolished the practice.

Texas, it is clear, is a stronghold of death-penalty support. A University of Texas-Texas Tribune poll this fall showed 74 percent of Texans in favor — about 14 points above national support expressed to a similar death-penalty question in a Gallup Poll last month.

The Texas poll showed that about 13 percent of the registered voters who opposed the death penalty identified themselves as conservatives.

One such Texan is criminal defense attorney Pat Monks of Houston, a Republican precinct chairman in Harris County. Monks said he once was a fervent supporter of capital punishment, a position that hardened after a friend was murdered. He said he would attend social justice seminars to press his point, once even heckling noted capital punishment opponent Sister Helen Prejean, who came to speak.

Ultimately, Monks said, the futility of seeking justice through the death chamber hit home to him. The impossibility of eradicating human error from the system hit home to him.

Monks said he came to see no deterrent value for a punishment that’s imposed unevenly at an intolerable expense to the public. Monks asserts that a more suitable punishment is sending a killer to a “4-by-8 cell, 23 hours a day for the rest of his life.”

Monks joined the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; he says he’s one of three conservative board members. This year, he was asked to help staff the booth that the Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty set up at the Maryland CPAC convention.

It was a surprise, Monks said, to see how many conservative activists at the convention stopped by to discuss the death penalty. “People would come up and say, ‘Man, I’m with you on that.’”

That’s not where most Texans are, not by a long shot. Most hold the same pro-death-penalty position Monks once held. We hope more will do the inquiry he did and have that same transformation.

Supporters of new conservative group

“I believe that support for the death penalty is inconsistent with libertarianism and traditional conservatism. So I am pleased with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty’s efforts to form a coalition of libertarians and conservatives to work to end capital punishment.”

Ron Paul , former Texas member of Congress and Republican presidential candidate

“I’m opposed to the death penalty not because I think it’s unconstitutional per se — although I think it’s been applied in ways that are unconstitutional — but it really is a moral view, and that is that the taking of life is not the way to handle even the most significant of crimes. Who amongst anyone is not above redemption?”

Jay Sekulow , chief counsel for the religious-liberty advocates American Center for Law and Justice

“Conservatives have every reason to believe the death penalty system is no different from any politicized, costly, inefficient, bureaucratic, government-run operation, which we conservatives know are rife with injustice. But here the end result is the end of someone’s life.”

Richard Viguerie, direct-mail mogul and major funder of conservative causes

SOURCES: Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty; Religion News Service; Sojourners

(“Editorial: Conservatives vs. the death penalty,” Dallas Morning News, November 29, 2013). See Editorials and New Voices.