NC Republicans Fight to Preserve Racism In Application of the Death Penalty
Over the last couple weeks, North Carolina’s GOP has successfully passed a bill that essentially repeals the state’s landmark Racial Justice Act (RJA). Orginally passed in 2009, the RJA allows death row inmates to present evidence, most importantly statistical patterns, that prove racial bias played a major role in their trial and sentencing. Nearly all of North Carolina’s 157 death row prisoners have since filed claims under the act, leading to an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty. Thus far, one inmate has had his death sentence commuted to life in prison without parole under RJA.
Given that North Carolina has the nation’s sixth largest number of inmates on death row, over half of whom are black, the RJA was lauded as a civil rights victory. Nevertheless, NC republicans have been relentless in their attempts to repeal it, arguing that the RJA is really part of an underhanded plan to ban the death penalty that makes it too easy for criminals to avoid punishment. Of course this completely ignores the endless stacks of empirical evidence showing defendants of color are overwhelmingly more likely to be sentenced to death than their white counterparts, particularly if the victim is white.
House Republicans, with the help of five conservative democrats, successfully passed the repeal last week. On Wednesday, it flew through the Senate which voted along party lines to send the bill to Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, who vetoed a similar piece of legislation last year. But according to the News Observer, “Both the Senate and the House have just enough votes to sustain an override if Perdue vetoes this bill.”
In 1987, the US Supreme Court ruled in McCleskey v. Kemp that evidence of systemic racial bias in the application of the death penalty t is not enough to commute a death sentence. NYU law professor Anthony Amsterdam once called the ruling “the Dred Scott decision of our time” because it allowed racial disparities in the criminal justice system to remain unchallenged. So when North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act passed, it was celebrated as a model for the nation because race could no longer determine who would live and die under the state’s death penalty system. However, North Carolina Republicans have shown themselves to be hell bent on preserving racism in criminal justice, not matter the cost.