California Still Needs a Death Penalty—But Not For People

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s declared moratorium on the death penalty isn’t all that important. California hasn’t executed anyone in years, and, despite reports to the contrary, it wasn’t going to execute anyone anytime soon.

But the state still needs a death penalty, though not necessarily one for people. It needs a death penalty for laws, regulations and constitutional amendments.

This is a state that loves to add laws and regulations—through the legislature, through boards and commissions, and through the ballot, via initiative. But it is very hard to kill rules and regulations here. We keep on adding, and the whole morass of laws has made doing anything in California very slow.

Indeed, our state is distinguished by an initiative process that makes it next to impossible to undo laws imposed by initiative. We also make it easy to add to the constitution, and that has given us a document so long and self-contradictory as to be effectively useless.

As Gov. Newsom ends the death penalty for convicted felons, he should launch a new death penalty—for laws, constitutional amendments and regulations. He could call it a sunset clause, because that’s more politically correct, and more fitting for a state with such beautiful sunsets.

The rule should be this. Any law, regulation, initiative, constitutional amendment or court ruling should automatically die after 30 years—unless the legislature specifically acts to renew it.

You could post the rules that are about to automatically die online– or even provide a room in the Capitol, a real Legislative death chamber. To pay for it?

Use the savings from closing San Quentin’s death row.

 

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