On the weighty question of whether an execution passes
constitutional muster, both advocates and foes of the death penalty are
in rare agreement:
Let the courts decide.
Thus Gov. Jeb Bush halted today's scheduled execution
of Robert Trease shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the execution
of another Florida inmate, Linroy Bottoson. Both the Supreme Court and
the governor made the right call. Gov. Bush, a strong supporter of capital
punishment, said he made his decision because Trease isn't represented
by a lawyer and because a Supreme Court ruling on the issue could affect
other Florida death row inmates. Some may be tempted to read into the governor's
action more than was intended. But his decision simply shows good judgment
in the face of 2 Supreme Court suspensions of Florida executions. Last
month, the Court delayed the execution of Amos Lee King while it considers
a constitutional challenge to the power of a judge, rather than a jury,
to impose the death penalty. Gov. Bush hasn't changed his position on capital
punishment, nor is he likely to. If, however, the Supreme Court decides
that Florida's death-penalty law is out of sync with the Constitution,
then the governor and Legislature would be obligated to review the law
and bring it into compliance -- as they have pledged to do. The Supreme
Court has agreed to hear the case of an Arizona man who challenges the
death penalty as unconstitutional when imposed by a judge and not a jury.
Also indicative of the Supreme Court's interest in the death penalty was
a speech last summer in which Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has supported
capital punishment, questioned if the U.S. justice system had allowed "some
innocent defendants to be executed." Justice O'Connor's concerns are well-founded.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 99 people have been
released or exonerated from death sentences nationwide since capital punishment
was reinstated in 1973. The Supreme Court's intervention can only ensure
a fairer system.