February 11, 2014
The George Ryan Precedent

In 2000, the Republican governor of Illinois, then in serious trouble, suspended the death penalty in his state.   He received many plaudits from the usual suspects, but that did not save him from justice.

Ryan received national attention for his 1999 moratorium on executions in Illinois and for commuting more than 160 death sentences to life sentences in 2003.  He was convicted of federal corruption charges after leaving office and spent over five years in federal prison.   Ryan then served 7 months in prison for home confinement.  He was released from federal prison on July 3, 2013.

(The Wikipedia article gives two years, 1999 and 2000, for his initial action. I've gone with second because it is consistent with the New York Times article they link to in footnote 19.)

Did Governor Ryan unilaterally suspend the death penalty to distract from his legal troubles?   I doubt that that was his only motive, or even his most important motive.  But as a career politician, it is likely that he knew that he was in legal danger, and likely that he knew that his action on the death penalty might help him out, later.

So it is only natural to wonder whether Washington Governor Jay Inslee might also have some motives for today's decision that he would rather not tell us about.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he was suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state for as long as he's in office, announcing a move that he hopes will enable officials to "join a growing national conversation about capital punishment."

In Inslee's case — if he does have hidden motives — they are more likely to relate to political problems than legal problems.  Inslee is a good campaigner, but has no talent at all for governing, and it is harder for an executive than a legislator to hide failures.

Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.

(Ryan had more reason to suspend the death penalty than Inslee does.  Illinois had a number of men on death row who had not received fair treatment, and some who were probably innocent.  The nine men who were on Washington's death row all belonged there.

Four of the last seven elected governors of Illinois, Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan, and Rod Blagojevich, spent time in prison.  (Blagojevich, a long-time Obama ally, is still in prison.)  Ryan is the only Republican in the group.)

Posted by Jim Miller at February 11, 2014 06:24 PM | Email This