Over the past 20 years, I have been repeatedly reminded that the state of Texas is more likely to execute people than just about anywhere else in the civilized world. Our state has executed over 360 people just since 1998, the year I became a licensed attorney. I have become so accustomed to the pro death penalty approach adopted by many, many Texans that I have pretty much stopped trying to convince anybody why my personal belief is that the death penalty is wrong.
It’s a very complicated issue, and I really don’t bother reading or talking about it much anymore. I guess you could say I decided a long time ago to completely give up on the death penalty debate. Gotta try to get along with people, most of the time anyway, right? And in Texas, saying you are against the death penalty is somewhere between saying you favor the right for homosexuals to marry and claiming the world is actually a lot older than the bible claims. I also figured I would be better off spending my time and energy trying to help prisoners make parole than fight a battle to keep the state from killing any more people. I have never wavered on my view that we should not be executing people, but I had given up the fight. Until the other day…
The day before Thanksgiving, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an opinion in which the High Court (Texas’ highest court for criminal cases) denied the motion to stay the execution of a schizophrenic named Scott Louis Panetti. That decision is neither surprising, nor particularly newsworthy in light of the fact that we have about 300 more people sitting on death row, and the Texas courts rarely do anything to stop an execution. It was the 6 page dissenting opinion authored by Justice Tom Price that is so newsworthy.
Justice Tom Price is a Republican Justice from the Dallas area. He has been on the high court for 18 years, and has been sitting in a judicial capacity for about 40 years now. I strongly encourage anyone to read the dissent by Justice Price For me, reading his articulate and well reasoned viewpoint, provided from such a uniquely qualified perspective, was a remarkable experience. We should all be very grateful to Justice Price for providing Texas with his insights on the death penalty!
It may not come as much of a surprise to anyone who understands Texas politics to learn that Justice Price will be leaving the bench in January, 2015. Perhaps he was tired of having to let his conscience take a backseat to the need to keep his judicial career in tact. No matter what the reason he had for speaking out when he did, I salute this extraordinary man for speaking at all, and allowing at least part of his legacy to be attached to the cause for such a long overdue reform. The courage he has shown provides at least a sliver of hope for every Texan with a desire to see the death penalty abolished.