Feldman: We are disappointed by the 2nd U.S. Appeals Court reversal of Judge Rakoff's courageous decision against capital punishment. The Reform Movement will continue to oppose the unjust system of capital punishment that currently blemishes our judicial system.
Contact : Alexis Rice or Becca Nagorsky 202-387-2800
Washington, DC, December 12, 2002 - Following the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals reversal of a lower court's ruling against the constitutionality of the death penalty, Rabbi Marla Feldman, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism released the following statement:
Last July, U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional due to its denial of due process rights to defendants, many of whom have been exonerated after being sentenced to death. In his ruling, Judge Rakoff called capital punishment, "tantamount to foreseeable, state-sponsored murder of innocent human beings." Regrettably, the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Rakoff's ruling Tuesday, citing the Supreme Court's rejection of this argument in the past. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), which strongly opposes the death penalty, decries the Court of Appeal's failure to address the critical problems of due process and the potential execution of innocents.
The flaws in the death penalty system as implemented in the U.S. are egregious and increasingly apparent. The racial biases and economic disparities found in death sentences are undeniable. Over 50% of inmates on death row are black or Hispanic. Eighty percent of those on death row are poor and could not afford adequate legal representation during trial. Incompetent defense attorneys have slept through trials or arrived intoxicated.
Since 1976, 102 death row inmates have been exonerated and released from state death rows, while 812 have been executed. Given the high percentage of those exonerated through better technology, we must wonder how many of those 812 people were innocent of the crimes for which they were put to death. The price we pay for executing the clearly guilty is the risk that we may put innocent people to death as well. If we wish to be considered a moral and humane society, we cannot continue to bear the burden of guilt associated with the execution of the innocent.
The UAHC, representing over 900 congregations throughout North America, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), representing over 1800 Reform rabbis oppose the death penalty. The position of the UAHC states, "we believe that there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified, and that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods in dealing with crime…We appeal to our congregants and to our co-religionists and to all who cherish God's mercy and love to join in efforts to eliminate this practice [of capital punishment] which lies as a stain upon civilization and our religious conscience." In 1999, the UAHC reaffirmed its opposition to the death penalty, and called for a national moratorium of the death penalty until the criminal justice system that imposes it resolves its deep-rooted problems. That time has not yet arrived.
We are disappointed by the 2nd U.S. Appeals Court reversal of Judge Rakoff's courageous decision against capital punishment. The Reform Movement will continue to oppose the unjust system of capital punishment that currently blemishes our judicial system.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .