More than 250 conservative leaders from across the country have signed on to a statement expressing their opposition to capital punishment as administered across the United States and issued a “call [to] our fellow conservatives to reexamine the death penalty and demonstrate the leadership needed to end this failed policy.” Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCATDP) released the statement in conjunction with an October 28, 2019 nationally webcast press conference that highlighted on-going efforts by conservative advocates in Ohio, Utah, and Wyoming to abolish the death penalty in those states.

The signatories to the statement include current and former state legislators, local-, county-, and state-level officers of Republican and Libertarian organizations, law enforcement officials, and other elected officials and candidates. Among the nationally-recognized figures on the list are Richard Viguerie, Republican former Governor of Illinois George Ryan, and former U.S. Representative and presidential candidate Ron Paul. The statement begins, “We have come to the conclusion that the death penalty does not work and can’t be made to work, not in spite of our conservative principles, but because of them.” It sets forth a series of reasons why conservatives have increasingly turned against capital punishment, calling it “a costly and ineffective government program” that “makes too many mistakes” and “has no place in a culture seeking to promote life.”

The statement was intended, in part, as response by conservatives to the announcement by the U.S. federal government in July that it will resume executions this December after a 16-year hiatus.

At the press conference, four of the signatories spoke about efforts in Ohio, Utah, and Wyoming to abolish the death penalty. Ohio Representative Niraj Antani, the first Republican in Ohio to sponsor a repeal bill, described himself as pro-life and said his conservative values led him to oppose capital punishment. “Even the chance of someone being put to death who could be innocent, I believe, for pro-life people across the country, is enough to oppose the death penalty,” he said.

Wyoming Representative Jared Olsen, who sponsored a repeal bill earlier this year that passed the state House and failed narrowly in the Senate, also spoke. He said efforts to repeal Wyoming’s death penalty were “organic,” arising from grassroots groups across the political spectrum. He explained that the death penalty violates his small government principles, noting that the government has failed to even deliver his mail effectively. “When something so simple as delivering your mail is that ineffective, it blows my mind that any American would want to trust the justice system with matters of life and death,” he said. Olsen said he was “extremely troubled” by the federal government’s plan to resume executions, a decision that, he said, puts the U.S. in the same “categories of nations like North Korea.” Kylie Taylor, Wyoming state coordinator for CCATDP, joined Olsen in promoting Wyoming’s repeal effort, calling repeal a matter of “guarding the individual against government overreach” and the risk of executing the innocent.

Utah CCATDP state director Darcy Van Orden indicated that lawmakers intend to introduce a bill in the next legislative session to again attempt to abolish the state’s death penalty. Van Orden described the shift in the Utah capital punishment debate, juxtaposing the 2015 bill that brought back the firing squad as a back-up method of execution and the 2016 repeal bill that passed the Senate and won approval from a House committee before running out of time on the House floor. Van Orden expressed concern over the number of death-row exonerations, the arbitrariness of capital punishment, and the high cost of Utah’s death penalty. Citing a study that showed Utah has spent $40 million on the death penalty over the last 20 years, while adding only two people to death row, she asked: “How can Utah waste those funds when we could be pouring that money into helping victims?” She expressed optimism that changes in the composition of the state legislature, combined with education efforts over the last three years by CCATDP and other repeal advocates, could lead to abolition of the death penalty in Utah.


Statement of Support to End the Death Penalty, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, October 28, 2019; Mead Gruver, Conservatives in some states push against death penal­ty, Associated Press, October 28, 2019; Ryann Richardson, Southern Utah activists, rep­re­sen­ta­tives join nation­al death penal­ty debate, St. George News, October 28, 2019; Connor Richards, Getting the jus­tice you can afford’: Utahns join in to speak out against death penal­ty, Daily Herald, October 282019.