Courtesy of the Associated Press, the Free Lance-Star reports on what is perhaps one of the sadder and tragic laws to pass the General Assembly in recent memory:
“If this becomes law … our citizens would be more certain about the chemical composition of the asphalt that [the Virginia Department of Transportation] buys to put on our road than we would about the drugs that we put in the veins of someone we want to execute,” said Republican Del. Jim LeMunyon.
Virginia will join several states with laws that allow officials to keep secret the identities of lethal injection suppliers. Inmates and media organizations have challenged the laws in Georgia, Ohio, Missouri and Arkansas with mixed results so far.
…and good on leaders such as Del. LeMunyon, State Senators Chase and Sturtevant, and others who held the line of conscience.
Other outlets have commented on this tragic ending: the Washington Post’s Laura Vozella, for instance:
The Senate voted, 22 to 16, to back the governor’s plan, with Sen. Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) arguing that complaints about secrecy had been overblown. Had the federal government decided to put Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to death the same way he killed his victims, “do you honestly think any of your constituents would care where we bought the dynamite?” Saslaw said.
The House’s approval came with dramatic flip-flops. Conservative skeptics of government secrecy initially teamed with House Democrats to reject the governor’s amendments by a vote of 51 to 47. But after a few minutes of arm-twisting by Republican leaders, and the abrupt exit of one GOP delegate, the House reconsidered the vote. The second time, the measure passed, 59 to 40.
Such is the manner in which laws are made concerning matters of life and death, ladies and gentlemen.
Graham Moomaw over at the Richmond Times-Dispatch quotes State Sen. Scott Surovell on the matter, and it’s a point worth re-iterating:
“This bill will shield one little part of our government from transparency,” said Sen. Scott A. Surovell, D-Fairfax. “Mistakes happen the most when we put a shadow over things.”
This really is the crux of the entire argument.
The maximum and most irreversible decision the state can impose upon a human being is the penalty of death. There is no remanding it, there is no reversal. Set aside questions of the consistency or accuracy of convictions that demand the death penalty: when the Commonwealth of Virginia makes the decision to put another human being to death, that decision ought to be surrounded with the maximum possible sunlight and transparency we can afford — and to a fault it should be utterly above board with checkmarks next to every box.
Secrecy in such instances says more about Virginia as a polity — and ourselves as voters — than we care to consider. Perhaps secrecy in such instances is a means of removing moral culpability in what is a distasteful act? One suspects as such… but all the more reason why individuals who vote on such matters should demand and expect full transparency in such matters.
Certainly our history suggests that Virginians are capable of both excellent virtue and reprehensible vice — rarely do Virginians perform half measures. Yet that twinge of conscience we saw play itself out on the floor of the General Assembly suggests that in the discussion over the penalty of death in Virginia, our reliance on such deterrence to violent crime warrants a deeper discussion.
Let’s hope that in yesterday’s push for secrecy, a statewide conversation about whether our proclivity towards imposing such penalties is consistent with Virginia values begins in earnest.
Kudos to those who held firm on conscience, though. That is to be commended and applauded to the skies… not just for their individual stand on character over partisan labels, but for no better reason than it was the right thing to do.