Obama Admin. Turns Down Opportunity to Begin Improving Death Penalty

| Mon Feb. 23, 2009 4:36 PM EST

Here's Barack Obama in 1999:

"I was a main sponsor of a bill that would have put an immediate moratorium on the death penalty. We need to put more resources into the Public Defender's office, so they can do things like DNA testing and take other means to make sure you've got the right person before you consider the death penalty."

And here he is in 2004:

"I support capital punishment for heinous crimes. I cannot, however, support the current system which is rife with error and lacks sufficient safeguards against wrongful convictions."

He said similar things in same during the campaign. And yet, when invited by an anti-death penalty group to begin changing the way capital punishment cases are tried in this country, Obama's Justice Department decided instead to fight for the status quo.

The solicitor general's office has turned down a request by the Innocence Project to disavow a Bush Administration stance on prisoners' access to DNA evidence in postconviction proceedings. As a result, on March 2, Neal Katyal will make his debut as deputy solicitor general by arguing before the Supreme Court in support of the state of Alaska's view that prisoners have no constitutional right to obtain DNA evidence that might help them prove their innocence -- even if the prisoners pay for the DNA testing themselves.

I share Brian's disappointment on this. What an inexplicable and confusing shame. (Final note: For an enlightening story on lethal injection's bizarre history, click here.)

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