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Opinion | British waffling on death penalty will have global repercussions

Stephen Cooper

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For over half a century, abolitionists have wielded the United Kingdom’s conscientious, consistent, civilized opposition to capital punishment – in all cases and all circumstances – as a powerful argument to end the ignominious practice in their own countries and states, too. This may be about to end.

In a fiery column for The Independent with a blistering chyron-style title (“No Sajid Javid, you don’t get to make us all complicit in the state-sponsored murder of ISIS fighters”), British barrister and human rights campaigner Martha Spurrier writes: Although “Britain left the death penalty behind in 1965[,] [because it’s] cruel, inhuman and degrading – of the executed and the executioner [ – British Interior Minister/“Home Secretary”] Sajid Javid took a step back to the dark ages, abandoning the UK’s longstanding policy of denying extradition requests or intelligence sharing where they could be used to facilitate an execution.”

Muddying the waters, a Business Insider piece carried the headline “Theresa May refuses to back Javid’s decision to allow death penalty for British jihadis,” but incongruously allowed, in its first sentence, that actually: “May’s spokesperson today repeatedly refused to say whether the prime minister supports a decision to overturn Britain’s longstanding opposition to the death penalty, in an extradition deal with the Trump administration.”

With this moral quandary in the spotlight, and, all a tangle – its life and death, even potentially torturous implications, fluid – and not fully resolved within the British government, it seems an appropriate time, and I hope a collegial space, as an abolitionist lawyer and writer in America, to echo barrister Spurrier’s exhortation that: (1) the British people “cannot ignore what the Americans are likely to do, wash our hands of responsibility and pretend it’s not our problem”; and, (2), doing so “undermines the UK’s leadership in encouraging others to join us in abolishing this cruel and inhuman practice.”

Indeed, my own writing has relied on the British people’s principled, staunch opposition to state-sponsored killing as a reason in and of itself to abolish capital punishment. For example, in Alabama, I published a piece called “Can Alabamians afford the specter of 16 or more scheduled executions in a row?”; in it, I observed: “We already know Europeans hate the death penalty by their refusal to ship lethal injection drugs to the US,” and, “after Saudi Arabia held mass executions, it was reported on January 15 [2016] by Eve Hartley of the Huffington Post that, ‘the brutal Saudi justice system [had] strain[ed] relations between’ Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.”

Further, in my own Huffington Post piece, “When Will the United States Stop Tinkering with the Machinery of Death,” I plaintively pointed out: “In the United States, we rightly condemn barbaric executions in other countries,” like in North Korea and Saudi Arabia, “where beheading remains a common practice,” and, “[w]e have especially condemned ISIS executions, executions that have included burning and burying people alive.”

Relevant to my British brothers and sisters today, I brooded: “Can the fact that US executions are not broadcast to the masses from some windswept desert in the Middle East, and occur, instead, in sterile prisons, under the color of law, really make such a difference? Isn’t it morally wrong to execute someone by [lethal injection,] reproducing the sensation of being buried alive, [drowning,] and burning them from the inside out? Aren’t we, as a nation, and as people, better than that? Shouldn’t we as the New York Times Editorial Board wrote, ‘join the rest of the civilized world and end the death penalty once and for all?’”

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While that was over two years ago, recently I was uber-fortunate to spend a fortnight in England, and, while researching at the Harris Manchester College in Oxford – in the college’s venerable, wood-paneled library, its floor to ceiling stacks adorned by ancient treasures, marble busts, and glorious stained-glass windows – I happened upon several astute reflections concerning British evolution on capital punishment; these I located in “The Ethics of Punishment” by Sir Walter Moberly (Faber and Faber Limited 1968). Fortunately, I jotted a few of these down not knowing how handy, and worthy of serious reflection they’d become – especially in Britain right now.

Concluding that state killings have a “demoralizing and brutalizing tendency[,] familiarizing the public with horrors,” and “caus[ing] human life to be held cheap,” Sir Moberly’s tome decries these dastardly acts – all of them – as being a “deliberate infliction of torture [that] to [the British people] [is] unthinkable wickedness, degrading all who have any part in it, whether as agents, spectators or hearers after the event.”

On the brink of the very evil Sir Moberly decried, the United Kingdom would do well to consider an additional Moberly rumination pulled from another of his books, “The Crisis in the University” (SCM Press Ltd. 1949); principally concerning the educational philosophy of English universities from the standpoint of a Christian, it includes a passage that precisely illumines the weighty repercussions of this decision the British government is about to make – concerning critical and precedential death penalty policy – purportedly in the best interest of its people.

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No mincer of words, Sir Moberly wisely and warily wrote: “The veneer of civilisation has proved to be amazingly thin. Beneath it has been revealed, not only the ape and the tiger, but what is far worse – perverted and satanic man.”

About the Author: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq

 

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq

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Opinion | On the Nov. 3 ballot, vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1

Chris Christie

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(STOCK PHOTO)

On Nov. 3, 2020, all Alabama voters should vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1. Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens whom the Legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.

Currently, the Alabama Constitution provides that “Every citizen of the United States…” has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides. Amendment 1 would delete the word “every” before citizen and replace it with “only a” citizen.

In Alabama, the only United States citizens who cannot vote today are most citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.

Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote: every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote. With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, thus would lose the state constitutional protection of our voting rights.

In Alabama, no individual who is not a United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.

Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens whom a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.

In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots. As in Alabama, Citizens Voters, Inc., claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with more than $8 million in dark money.

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According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.

And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.

The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protectingevery citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the every citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?

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Amendment 1 could allow Alabama new state legislation to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens. Such a change would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the state of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.  

The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.

Alabama’s Nov. 3, 2020, ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.

Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.

Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.

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Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution

Gerald Johnson and John Cochran

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The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.

A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.

The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.

In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.

While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.

Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.

Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.

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On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.

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Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color

Elizabeth Huntley and James Pratt

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Auburn University's Student Center (VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY)

The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.

This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.

Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.

These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.

We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.

Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.

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In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.

We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.

In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.

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Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.

Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”

Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.

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Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing

Paul DeMarco

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The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.

Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.

To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.

Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.

There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.

The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.

State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.

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We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.

In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.

The state is depending on it.

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