North Carolina House votes to repeal landmark Racial Justice Act
Representatives in the North Carolina House voted 77-39 Wednesday to repeal a law that sought to address systematic racism in capital punishment cases.
North Carolina’s Senate Bill 306 would repeal the Racial Justice Act (RJA).
The 2009 law allowed death row inmates to have their death sentence converted to life without parole if they could demonstrate that racial discrimination was a factor in their trial or sentencing. Since the law was enacted, more than 150 death row inmates have filed challenges and four have shown that racism tainted their trials.
“It would be beyond tragic if North Carolina turns its back on that evidence and haphazardly rushes to restart executions, knowing full well that our capital punishment process is plagued by racial bias and other flaws that might very well lead to the execution of innocent people,” American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina policy director Sarah Preston said in a statement.
“Even those who support the death penalty should agree that capital sentences must be handed down impartially and with respect for due process, yet this bill makes it harder, if not impossible, to achieve that goal.”
Republicans have argued the law has acted as a de facto ban on the death penalty and has caused costly delays.
“No one wants actual racial discrimination. What we don’t want also is for race to be used for a pretext – a pretext in order to stop the death penalty,” state Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake) said Tuesday on the House floor, according to a WRAL.com.
“It’s simply an attempt to get people off death row by arguing that the frequency of the death penalty in one race is more than another. It doesn’t deal with the word ‘bias’ or ‘discrimination,'” state Sen. Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover) told The Daily Tar Heel.
[Black arms and hands of African American inmate via Shutterstock.com]