"Oregon governor wins battle, loses the war," is the Salem Statesman Journal editorial.
The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled. Gary Haugen will not yet die at the state’s hand.
The court’s ruling seems reasonable. Gov. John Kitzhaber has the authority to grant a reprieve of Haugen’s execution even though Haugen doesn’t want it; and the uncertainty of sitting on death row does not constitute unconstitutional punishment, as Haugen contended.
“Moreover, Haugen cites no case that suggests that a reprieve or other act of clemency qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment,” states the unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Thomas Balmer.
Yet the greater issue remains unresolved: Should Oregon retain the death penalty?
The Eugene Register-Guard editorial is, "A governor’s decision."
When he announced the reprieve for Haugen, Kitzhaber pointedly declined to commute Haugen’s sentence, saying that decision belongs to Oregonians who he hoped would engage in a statewide debate over this most critical of issues.
That debate has yet to happen. It should. The death penalty in Oregon, as elsewhere, is morally wrong and unjustly administered. Kitzhaber is justified in calling it a “perversion of justice,” and that is why a growing number of states have chosen to abolish capital punishment and replace it with a far more practical form of retribution — life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The court’s ruling should prompt a statewide debate over the death penalty. As for Haugen’s opinion on the matter, it is, as the court made clear, completely irrelevant.
The Oregonian's columnist Steve Duin writes, "Gov. John Kitzhaber and capital punishment: Justice is in the eye of the repriever."
John Kitzhaber, for better or worse, is not governor in perpetuity.
Somewhere down the road, he will graduate to health-care consulting or retire to Bhutan. But until he makes that move, none of Oregon's 37 death-row inmates will hear the executioner's song.
As Kitzhaber famously announced in November 2011, the death penalty is a "perversion of justice. I refuse to be part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer, and I will not allow further executions while I am governor."
You have to think Kitzhaber wants this moral perspective to survive him. Unless he plans to commute those 37 sentences as his parting shot, he surely hopes to persuade the voters who reinstated the death penalty in 1984 -- or the next governor -- to sustain his veto of capital punishment.
And that campaign is jeopardized if we conclude that with his reprieve of convicted murderer Gary Haugen, Kitzhaber has replaced one "compromised and inequitable system" with another.
Earlier coverage of the Oregon Supreme Court ruling begins at the link.