An Oklahoma Activist original opinion piece from contributor Camille Landry.
The leaders who founded our nation and our state envisioned a government of laws and principles that would apply equally to everyone. They wrote a federal, then state constitutions to ensure that the most important principles of our society are clearly enshrined. The right to vote, the right to speak freely, freedom of the press, protection against unwarranted search and seizure, a prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and other constitutional rights form the foundation for a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
The founders took an additional step to protect democracy: they made it difficult to change our constitutions. Opinions change, society evolves, but the constitution is meant to be the solid foundation that our government of laws is built upon and was never intended to be changed without serious consideration. After all, you don’t start tearing at the foundation unless you have a good reason – and then you proceed very carefully in a well-thought out way lest the whole structure comes tumbling down.
SQ776 would enshrine the death penalty as part of Oklahoma’s constitution. The amendment would make all methods of execution constitutionally allowable, regardless of how barbaric they are, and would forbid the death penalty from being construed as “the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments.” It opens the door for beheadings, firing squads and the return of the electric chair.
SQ776 is unnecessary and would accomplish nothing. There is no compelling reason for people who are either for or against the death penalty to vote “yes” on this question. Its passage would do nothing but shout “hooray” at something that is already an established practice; it is wasteful and serves to trivialize what is literally a life-and-death issue.
It’s no secret that a lot of Oklahomans approve of the death penalty. But the death penalty is already legal in this state, and passing SQ776 will have no effect upon that.
The US constitution and federal laws are not affected by state laws that would countermand them. So if Congress or the US Supreme Court declare that the death penalty is “cruel and unusual punishment” – which is prohibited in the US constitution – then nothing in the Oklahoma constitution could override that regardless of how many ballot initiatives we pass.
Passage of SQ776 comes with a cost to Oklahoma taxpayers. Several other measures that are unconstitutional have passed our legislature or gotten enacted through ballot initiatives in recent years. These measures cost Oklahoma taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars when they were defended in court.
Taxpayers pick up more than one tab for unconstitutional legislation: the attorney general’s office expends staff hours, hires consultants, conducts investigations and carries out trials to defend the legislation when it is challenged by someone who is directly affected by it – and someone always is. When the state loses the case, which is virtually inevitable, it is often required to pay the legal fees of the challenger. When the US Department of Justice challenges Oklahoma laws that go against federal law, we again pay for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office to conduct a defense.
We do not have an accurate accounting of the costs we have run up to defend unconstitutional laws, but every dollar spent defending unconstitutional legislation is a dollar that does not go to our schools, law enforcement, infrastructure, health care or any other useful purpose.
Another concern is that the passage of bills that are subsequently ruled to be invalid may serve to erode the public’s trust in state government.
Enlightened citizens will vote NO on State Question 776. It is unnecessary. It is potentially expensive. It serves no useful purpose. SQ 776 can only do what my granddaddy called “gilding the lily” – and lilies don’t need extra adornment.
Learn more about State Question 776, volunteer to help the No on SQ776 campaign or donate to defeat the measure at ThinkTwiceOK.com.