California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to issue a moratorium on all death row executions in the state, temporarily sparing the lives of 737 people on death row.
The New York Times reports that Newsom, who was sworn in on January, plans to sign an executive order on Wednesday that would grant reprieves for people currently on death row, as well as shutter San Quentin prison’s execution chamber and halt ongoing efforts to establish a lethal injection protocol. California has the largest death row in the country.
Per the Times:
“I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Mr. Newsom plans to say on Wednesday, according to prepared remarks. “In short, the death penalty is inconsistent with our bedrock values and strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Californian.”
California has not had an execution since 2006, largely because of legal challenges involving the aforementioned lethal injection protocol. But Newsom’s executive order will prevent those legal challenges from being resolved, at least while he’s in office. In 2012 and 2016, Californians rejected ballot measures that would have abolished the state’s death penalty, and voted for the state’s Proposition 66, which speeds up death penalty appeals cases.
According to the Los Angeles Times, advocates of the state’s death penalty expect Newsom will face legal challenges, thanks to the limits of gubernatorial power:
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, called Newsom’s actions “an abuse of power.” Although Newsom has the constitutional authority to grant reprieves to condemned inmates, he does not have the power to order the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to shutter the death chamber or halt efforts to establish a lethal injection protocol, Scheidegger said.
California law requires corrections officials to maintain the ability to carry out executions, he added.
“He’s following in the footsteps of other governors who abused this power because they were frustrated by a law that they just personally disagreed with,” Scheidegger said.
California is one of 30 states that still has the death penalty. Twenty states, including New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Minnesota, have either overturned or abolished the death penalty. Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Oregon have gubernatorial moratoria on capital punishment—California will join those three states on Wednesday.