Skip to main content

Jonah Goldberg, the death penalty, and James Holmes

UPDATE: Welcome, National Review readers! You can find my response to William Voegeli here.

Jonah Goldberg has a column at NRO, saying that death penalty opponents are noticeably silent after the Aurora massacre because, hey, James Holmes is pretty inconvenient for their cause: "I say, let us give Holmes a fair trial. If convicted, execute him swiftly. If you disagree, explain why this man deserves to live."

The reason the death penalty debate hasn't flared up, post-Aurora, is because the debates have been focused on actions and policies that might've prevented the massacre in the first place. There are cases to be made both for gun reduction and arming citizens more thoroughly; there are arguments to be made about our mental health care system. Is anybody making the argument that the threat of the death penalty would've deterred Holmes? Even Goldberg isn't making that case. So the death penalty debate is kind of beside the point, as far as our current discussions go.

But, you know, Goldberg wants to have the debate. Since he implicitly concedes that deterrence isn't the point of the penalty—Colorado does have the death penalty, though it's rarely used—retribution is the real aim here. I'm not thrilled by the state killing people out of pure retribution, but I'll concede that many people may find it justification enough.

Goldberg's broader point, though, is that the existence of James Holmes somehow legitimizes the death penalty. There's no real question of his guilt, and he's white, so you can't say he'd be getting the punishment as the result of a racist system. Goldberg brushes off the idea of mental illness in this case, probably too easily, but there you go. This is an easy case, he's saying, so why not the death penalty now?

I've mentioned before the old lawyer's saw that "hard cases make bad law." Well, sometimes easy cases make bad law. James Holmes' plain guilt in this matter wouldn't make the death penalty system less likely to impose racially disparate punishments, wouldn't clear up the muddled questions of guilt in so many other cases. Goldberg doesn't argue that the death penalty system works well in the hard cases, only that it would in the easy cases. Well sure. That doesn't make the death penalty system worth the expense or the rampant injustice it's been shown to mete out. 

Bottom line: James Holmes doesn't prove the death penalty works. Want to execute him? The law seems to allow for it. Just don't pretend it means anything more than it does.

Comments

RRM said…
The fact that he is white proves it's a racist system. If he was minority, none of the factors concerning what could have prevented this from happening, would have never been considered. The media and system would simply try to analyze his "evil" or show that once again white people are the winners and victims and minorities are naturally the villains and instigators.

Popular posts from this blog

Yoga

I've been making some life changes lately — trying to use the time I have, now that I'm back in Kansas, to improve my health and lifestyle. Among the changes: More exercise. 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some is more than none, and I know from experience that getting overambitious early leads to failure. So. Thirty minutes a day.

One other thing: Yoga, a couple of times a week. It's nothing huge — a 15-minute flexibility routine downloaded from an iPhone app. But I've noticed that I'm increasingly limber.

Tonight, friends, I noticed a piece of trash on the floor. I bent over at the waist and picked it up, and threw it away.

Then I wept. I literally could not remember the last time I'd tried to pick something off the floor without grunting and bracing myself. I just did it.

Small victories, people. Small victories.

Liberals: We're overthinking this. Hillary didn't lose. This is what it should mean.

Interesting:
Nate Cohn of the New York Times estimates that when every vote is tallied, some 63.4 million Americans will have voted for Clinton and 61.2 million for Trump. That means Clinton will have turned out more supporters than any presidential candidate in history except for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And as David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes, the total vote count—including third party votes—has already crossed 127 million, and will “easily beat” the 129 million total from 2012. The idea that voters stayed home in 2016 because they hated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a myth. We already know the Electoral College can produce undemocratic results, but what we don't know is why — aside from how it serves entrenched interests — it benefits the American people to have their preference for national executive overturned because of archaic rules designed, in part, to protect the institution of slavery. 

A form of choosing the national leader that — as has happened in …

I'm not cutting off my pro-Trump friends

Here and there on Facebook, I've seen a few of my friends declare they no longer wish the friendship of Trump supporters — and vowing to cut them out of their social media lives entirely.

I'm not going to do that.

To cut ourselves off from people who have made what we think was a grievous error in their vote is to give up on persuading them, to give up on understanding why they voted, to give up on understanding them in any but the most cartoonish stereotypes.

As a matter of idealism, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on democracy. As a matter of tactics, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on ever again winning in a democratic process.

And as a long-term issues, confining ourselves to echo chambers is part of our national problem.

Don't get me wrong: I expect a Trumpian presidency is a disaster, particularly for people of color. And in total honesty: My own relationships have been tested by this campaign season. There's probably some damage…