Nebraska Abolishes Death Penalty

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 29, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Big news from Nebraska! The state legislature voted 30-19 to override the veto of Governor Pete Ricketts, thereby abolishing the death penalty in that state.

Nebraska is the first conservative state in 40 years to abolish the death penalty, The New York Times reported, and the vote cut across party lines.

The Third Alternative

Gov. Ricketts vetoed the measure, Legislative Bill 268, which would have replaced lethal injection with life without parole. The move to outlaw the death penalty came as Nebraska exhausted its supply of sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs used in the lethal injection mixture.

Many states have been facing shortages of the drug after European manufacturers stopped providing it to states for use in lethal injection. In 2011, Hospira, the sole American provider of sodium thiopental, also said it would cease production of the drug. States have been forced to seek out illicit supplies of it or switch to an alternative.

That alternative, called midazolam, is at the center of a Supreme Court case argued earlier this term but not decided yet. Midazolam has been blamed for the horrific executions of several prisoners who were apparently wide awake during the procedure; at oral arguments, the attorney for petitioner Richard Glossip said that midazolam lacked the sedating properties of sodium thiopental.

Times, They Are a-Changin'

Rather than get involved in the whole matter -- or switch to an alternative, like the firing squad or asphyxiation with nitrogen gas -- Nebraska legislators decided to forgo the death penalty altogether. A coalition of Republican legislators jumped ship, siding with Democrats both to vote for Legislative Bill 268 and to override the governor's veto. They claim the death penalty is expensive and inefficient, as evidenced by the fact that Nebraska hasn't executed a prisoner since 1997.

Nebraska has become the seventh state to abolish the death penalty since 2000, according to The Associated Press. Though still endorsed by a majority of Americans, support for the death penalty is at a 40-year low. Many states have used the cost and efficiency argument instead of the moral one for abolishing the death penalty, with mixed success. In 2012, California's Proposition 34 -- which claimed the death penalty was too expensive to administer -- was defeated by just four points.

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