Racial Justice Act Repeal: N.C. Governor Pat McCrory Just Brought Back Racially-Motivated Executions

I love my state — I really do. But recent moves by North Carolina's conservative state legislature have me scratching my head.

In its most recent act of stupidity, our legislature repealed the 2009 Racial Justice Act, a landmark law that helped deal with the problem of arbitrary or discriminatory application of the death penalty by allowing convicted murderers to have sentences reduced to life imprisonment upon proving racial bias influenced their case's outcome. Because race has indeed been shown to play a pivotal role in capital cases, with black defendants significantly more likely to recieve a death sentence than white defendants, I see no rationale for the repeal. 

In addition to introducing more racial disparities in capital cases, the bill, signed by our new and controversial Republican Governor Pat McCrory, will almost certainly restart executions in a state that hasn't used the death penalty since 2006. 

McCrory's signature followed months of heated debate during which Republicans argued that the Racial Justice Act had been abused and therefore should be repealed. In a controversial (and in my opinion misleading) mailer distributed to N.C. residents, the Republican Party suggested that the Racial Justice Act would allow some death row inmates to leave prison and move into homes next to law-abiding citizens. 

As The Charlotte Observer reported, "Republicans [said the bill] was so poorly crafted that it has allowed nearly all of the state’s 156 death row inmates to launch appeals regardless of their race. They say the law impedes the will of unanimous jury decisions." 

McCrory cited a similiar justification. "The policy implementation of the law was seriously flawed," he said. "Nearly every person on death row, regardless of race, has appealed their death sentence under the Racial Justice Act."

Democrats, of course, disagreed with the arguments above — for good reason. There is in fact plenty of evidence to suggest juries are racially biased. For example, a Michigan State University study concluded that North Carolina prosecutors struck African-Americans from capital case juries at more than twice the rate of other races over a two decade period. 

As someone who does not support the death penalty and who believes the death penalty is indeed unconstitutional because it violates stipulations against cruel and unusual punishment enshrined in our Constitution, I'm saddened that North Carolina will probably begin killing more people in the near future. The prospect that without the Racial Justice Act these killings may be executed in a discriminatory manner — in the year 2013 — makes me lose all hope for our current legislature here in North Carolina.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Michael Shammas

Second-year Harvard Law student, politico, Breaking Bad fan, cynical idealist, coffee addict, & Duke sports fanatic. Contact me at mshammas@jd16.law.harvard.edu.

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