The Corner

Law & the Courts

Death and Democracy

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, takes issue with my column advising death-penalty abolitionists to change their ways. I had suggested that they ought to “accept democracy.” Dunham responds, “No one who has brought about significant social change has ever done so by passively accepting the status quo because that’s just the way it is.”

Of course, I didn’t say anything about “passively accepting the status quo.” I said that abolitionists should try to persuade people to end the death penalty through legislation — but that, where laws provide for execution, abolitionists should refrain from asking “judges to override these laws, or for the executive branch to use its discretion and its powers of clemency to set a new policy.” The latter, anti-democratic kind of activism has been so central to the movement against the death penalty that some of its leaders must have a hard time imagining how to pursue the cause without it.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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