CARBONDALE — Gov. Bruce Rauner dropped a bombshell Monday morning when he announced his proposal to reinstate the death penalty in Illinois for mass murderers and people who kill police officers.
The move might have been unexpected, but it’s not unfamiliar, according to a local political expert.
John Jackson, a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said Rauner’s death penalty provision is reminiscent of the tough-on-crime campaign strategies of the 1960s and 1970s, and has emerged as a manifestation of deep polarization on social and racial issues.
“I think in some ways it harks back to the '60s and '70s, when political leaders at both the federal and the state level were rushing to make more and more things capital crimes … and all of that was part of the whole law-and-order era,” Jackson said.
In recent years, Jackson said, lawmakers have been moving in the opposite direction — toward bipartisan prison reform.
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“Many years later, we’ve come on a season when a fair number of political leaders on the left and the right are talking about (how) we’ve overdone it on law and order and filled our jails more than we’re willing to support, continuing to pay for all of the costs of that. And this (Rauner’s amendatory veto) is, in some ways, leaning against that more recent wind, it seems to me,” Jackson said.
Under the governor’s proposal, capital punishment suspects must be convicted by juries “beyond all doubt,” as opposed to the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Jackson said that in a larger context, the reemergence of the death penalty issue is an indication of social, racial and economic divisions.
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“I think it’s deeply tied up in the ‘Back the Blue’ movement, versus the whole national controversy over young black males getting killed by policemen, and then policemen getting killed, as in the case in Dallas, for example, by someone who clearly targeted them and killed four of the Dallas police officers a couple of years ago, and several other instances of that. It got all caught up in a lot of other things, like race and a return to law-and-order solution to deep social and economic problems,” Jackson said.
In 2000, then-Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois after learning of the prevalence of wrongful convictions.
“He was, of course, a Republican and himself had been a law-and-order guy, and then when he got into office, much to the consternation of some of his supporters, he went through sort of a public process of debating about the efficacy and more importantly the morality of capital punishment,” Jackson said.
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In March 2011, then-Gov. Pat Quinn officially abolished the practice.
The death-penalty provision was part of the governor’s amendatory veto of HB1468, which would have mandated a 72-hour waiting period for assault-style weapons in the state.
Such amendatory vetoes represent a long-running controversy in Springfield, Jackson said.
Jackson said the amendatory veto power was originally intended “as nothing more than ‘clean up the language, clean up places where we get in a hurry at the end’ … so it’s a way to save the bill and not scuttle it. That grew into governors doing more and more aggressive amendatory vetoing.”