(Cross-posted from Legislative Watch).
A House Judiciary subcommittee debated the proposal to repeal the Racial Justice Act this morning. You can watch a video of the entire committee meeting at WRAL.com.
Not surprisingly, the enthusiasm of the supporters for speeding the death machinery of the state vis a vis people who would otherwise be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole is fairly sobering to watch. This, combined with the arguments of a bevy of pro-death penalty prosecutors that the bill is somehow about “public safety,” provides a bit of a surreal feel to the event.
On the more uplifting side, however, are the comments of Tye Hunter, Executive Director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. Hunter does a masterful job of debunking the argument advanced by some prosecutors that the law is prohibitively expensive. Senator Floyd McKissick also does fine work in reminding the committee of the stakes involved in death penalty decision-making.
One “inside baseball” aspect to the whole episode that may escape the general public is a procedural trick that supporters used in an apparent effort to make final passage of the bill easier. Rather than taking up the scheduled bill (House Bill 615) that dealt with the subject of repeal, Committee Chair Paul Stam instead took up a Senate bill on a completely different subject that has already passed the Senate and then substituted the RJA repeal language.
As a practical matter, this accomplishes at least two things: 1) it obviates the need for the RJA to pass the House by the June 9 “crossover” deadline, and b) it makes it possible for the Senate to pass the RJA repeal with merely a single “concurrence” vote and bypass the traditional committee process.
All in all, another “ends justify the means” bit of hardball politics from the supposed champions of open and transparent government running the North Carolina House.