NEW VOICES: Conservatives Speak About the Death Penalty

A growing number of conservatives have stated their opposition to the death penalty. Among them is National Review columnist and American Enterprise Institute fellow Ramesh Ponnuru, who cited his Catholic faith as a reason for the change in his stance. He said he had to overcome his initial emotional response to heinous crimes because, “Our emotional or intuitive reactions are not a sure guide to right and wrong in matters of moral import.” He added that the death penalty’s declining prominence as a hot-button issue might give conservatives more room to reconsider the position: “Once an issue drops in political salience,” he said, “quieter reflection can take place and people can change their minds.” Ponnuru’s views are similar to those expressed earlier by prominent conservative leader Richard Viguerie, who said he has opposed the death penalty for 35 years because of his faith.

A new organization, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, is highlighting voices like Viguerie’s and Ponnuru’s and asking whether the death penalty is consistent with conservative values. Among those cited are Ron Paul, Bill O’Reilly, Pat Robertson, George Will, former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele, John McLaughlin, and right-wing legal activist Larry Klayman. Marc Hyden, an organizer of the group, said, “This is a program that conservatives should be uncomfortable with. The question is not whether people who commit heinous crimes deserve to be executed, it’s whether we trust the government to efficiently and effectively carry that out.”

(L. Neyfakh, “The conservative case against the death penalty,” Dallas Morning News, June 20, 2014). See New Voices.