L.A. Liberty

A Libertarian in Leftywood

Ron Paul and the Death Penalty →


Some of the vocal libertarians bloggers who use Tumblr as their platform — and some other libertarians who have written to me through other social networking channels — have taken issue with the criticism of Ron Paul that I raised in my post before last night’s debate. Here’s one example:

Ron Paul is against the death penalty. This is one of the few positions he has changed his mind about over the years (he was in favor of it in 1988). It’s expensive, unjustly puts innocents at risk, and tends to unfairly weigh most heavily on minorities.

He understands that a person can forfeit his life (self-ownership) under certain conditions, but the system is unreliable to make this judgement. As a constitutionalist, he respects the autonomy of the individual states and thus knows it is not within the president’s (or the federal government’s) jurisdiction to tell states how to police and prosecute crime. And since he is running for president (and not governor), he thusly stipulates the federal death penalty. But make no mistake, his stance does come into play when nominating judges who will hear capital appeals.

And as far as that last line: when has Ron Paul ever backed away from a position to suit his audience? He holds a number of positions on war, terror, blowback, drug prohibition, foreign aid, monetary policy, etc. that seldom curry favor among neo-cons but he speaks truthfully nonetheless.

Here are the problems:

  1. Ron Paul is a long-time Congressman from Texas, by far the executing-est state in the Union. Indeed, Texas executes more people than a great many countries. As far as I can tell, Paul has never spoken out about the death penalty in Texas. If he’s interested in allowing states to make decisions, and if he thinks that the death penalty is the wrong decision, shouldn’t he be exhorting the citizens of the state that sent him to Congress to change their bad policy? Or do we want to suggest that, as an elected official from Texas, he has no business making statements about the public policies of Texas.

Again, he is a congressman in the federal government. (This is why he said: “constitutionally I cannot, as a federal official, interfere with the individual states that impose it.”) If he were in the state legislature, he would doubtlessly be advocating to end the death penalty in Texas. In fact, he has said that he would vote against the death penalty in “any legislative body he was a member of.” 

Still, he also has rarely opined on the taxes in Texas. Using your logic, should we conclude he is wholly comfortable with his state’s taxes? Of course not.

Here he is in his most recent book, Liberty Defined (note the lack of the word “federal”):

"The death penalty issue is not only about mistakes that governments make. It is about the power they wield. If the government can legally kill, it can do just about anything. I no longer believe this government should be trusted with this power. The death penalty has an effect on the society that endorses it. The more civilized the society is, the more likely it has moved away from the death penalty. The more authoritarian a government becomes, the greater is the number of executions."

To me, that seems pretty straight-forward. So when you say “If you oppose the death penalty, in other words, you might go so far as to actually make mention of this fact.” - this should probably count as making mention of the fact.

And to further illustrate the aforementioned nuance in his position:

"There was a time I simply supported the death penalty. Now my views are not so clearly defined. I do not support the federal death penalty, but constitutionally I cannot, as a federal official, interfere with the individual states that impose it. After years spent in Washington, I have become more aware than ever of the government’s ineptness and the likelihood of its making mistakes. I no longer trust the US government to invoke and carry out a death sentence under any condition. Too many convictions, not necessarily federal, have been found to be in error, but only after years of incarcerating innocent people who later were released on DNA evidence. Rich people when guilty are rarely found guilty and sentenced to death. For me it’s much easier just to eliminate the ultimate penalty and incarcerate the guilty for life—in case later evidence proves a mistaken conviction. The cost of incarceration is likely less than it is for death penalty appeals drawn out not for years but for decades.”

2. The vision of a President Paul who puts activist judges on various courts isn’t one that makes sense to me. Perhaps you can point me to some place where Paul argues in favor of judges who legislate from the bench … but that sure doesn’t sound like a Ron Paul position. Judges can only deal with the cases in front of them, not with the systemic problems inherent in the death penalty. We saw this two nights ago, when Troy Davis was executed in Georgia. Davis might have been innocent and he might not have been, but we won’t know because all of the courts found that the proper procedures were followed and, thus, that the execution could go forward. This is precisely the sort of procedural justice that’s celebrated by Justice Antonin Scalia, whose general views on the Constitution don’t seem particularly far apart from Paul’s own; dissenting in the Troy Davis case in 2009, Scalia wrote, “This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

"Activist judges"? "legislate from the bench”? Constitutionalist judges who understand the 6th and 14th Amendments are not activists and are certainly not legislating. Scalia’s opinion seems superficially parallel to Ron Paul in that it respects state autonomy - but the 6th Amendment is about due process and protecting innocents - if someone is “‘actually’ innocent,” then the alleged full and fair trial ended in error. Appeals courts exist to undo such injustices. There is no new law being legislated by coming to this judgement. 

3. If Paul is so committed to speaking truth to power, as so many of his supporters claim, why didn’t he speak out when Rick Perry crowed about Texas’ perfect application of the death penalty? As I suggested in last night’s post, this would have been an excellent opportunity to demonstrate one way in which he differs from Perry … especially as both of them are elected officials from Texas. Paul might not believe that the President of the United States has any power to end the death penalty in the various states — and that’s a fine position — but he surely must know that running for the office and participating in a series of national debates provides him an opportunity to speak about his position on any number of issues, including the death penalty. When he doesn’t speak about the ways in which his position differs from the other candidates, he appears to be in agreement with them … and, in the case of these debates, where audiences are cheering for state killings, he benefits from this seeming agreement on a position that his supporters claim he regards as bad public policy.

Honestly, this is a very specious argument you’re making: that Ron Paul is not voicing or advocating against the death penalty in the manner in which you want him to thus makes him not really against the death penalty. Huh?

Ron Paul’s stance is clear. His willingness to speak the truth and not kowtow to audiences or interests has been repeatedly proven. 

But I get it. You don’t like him. There are many genuine ways in which you disagree with Ron Paul (and me), so I do not understand the need to obsess about some nebulously perceived inconsistency. Let the straw man go.

(Source: CNN)


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    Honestly, this is a very specious argument you’re making: that Ron Paul is not voicing or advocating against the death...
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