Both gubernatorial candidates insist that they can return California to solvency. But even as day-care centers are closing, teachers are being laid off and services for the poor and disabled are being curtailed, and the state parks are having rouble paying for toilet paper, neither Brown nor Whitman has publicly raised questions about whether the state should continue to shoulder the huge costs of capital punishment. According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the death penalty system costs the state $137 million each year, and if the system were brought up to the level recommended by the commission, it would require an additional $95 million annually to repair a system that California Chief Justice Ronald M. George called "dysfunctional." A new death row, needed to deal with such issues as overcrowding, will cost an estimated $400 million.
Neither candidate has been willing to ask whether Californians want to spend the financial or moral capital it will take to execute the 700 men and women who have been sentenced to death.
In 2008, in his concurring opinion in Baze vs. Rees, which upheld Kentucky's lethal injection procedures, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his conclusion that capital punishment violates the Constitution. He called on the nation to begin a sober, rational discussion about the continued imposition of the death penalty.
Jerry Brown had the opportunity to open this dialogue in California by allowing the three legal challenges to go forward before an execution date was set. The governor stepped in to postpone Albert Brown's execution. But the politics of the situation remain unchanged.
Elisabeth Semel is a clinical professor of law at UC Berkeley's school of law, where she directs the Death Penalty Clinic.