One of the nation’s oldest civil rights groups is optimistic that Maryland is a step closer to repealing the death penalty, after the Senate voted this week to repeal what the head of the NAACP called an “immoral, ineffective, racially biased, and fiscally wasteful practice.”
“Today’s Senate vote brings Maryland one step closer to fixing a broken justice system,” Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a prepared statement released to NewsOne. “We are optimistic that the House of Delegates will also vote to repeal and that capital punishment will be relegated to the history books of this state.”
The Maryland Senate voted 27 to 20 to repeal the state’s death penalty after four days of heated and emotional deliberations, which put Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on the verge of a hard-sought battle, the Washington Post reports.
The state reportedly has five men on death row.
“We must repeal the death penalty and replace it with life without the possibility of parole,” Jealous said.
According to DeathPenaltyInfo.org, a Black male defendant from Florida is 4.8 times more likely to receive the death penalty than a White man if the victim is White, and in Mississippi, for example, that rate increases to 5.5 times, underscoring that the death penalty has — and continues to be — applied according to race.
The bill moves next to the House of Delegates, where repeal advocates say they are confident they have the votes. The Senate had long been viewed as the tallest hurdle for the legislation.
O’Malley’s repeal bill was introduced this session with 67 co-sponsors in the House, leaving supporters just four delegates to sway to get a majority. Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), a champion of the legislation, said he is confident his side has the votes to prevail in coming weeks.
Maryland voters could have the final say on the issue, though.
If the bill passes the House, opponents have vowed to make use of a provision in the state Constitution that allows citizens to petition recently passed laws to the ballot, as happened with same-sex marriage last year. The outcome of a death penalty referendum would be far more certain.
A Washington Post poll last week showed that a majority of Marylanders want to keep the death penalty on the books despite widespread skepticism across the state about whether capital punishment is a deterrent to murder or is applied fairly.
Abolishing the death penalty in Maryland is part of a larger campaign being led by the NAACP and other civil rights organizations. Maryland would become the sixth state in six years to abolish the death penalty and the 18th to ban it, according to the Associated Press. It was banned in Connecticut last year. Additionally, it was banned in recent years in New Mexico, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey.