California Gov. Gavin Newsom is reportedly set to announce he will use executive action to end the death penalty in his state—where more than 700 inmates are on death row and where no one has been executed in more than a decade.
Multiple local media outlets reported that the newly elected Democrat, a longtime opponent of capital punishment, is expected to unveil his plan at a news conference on Wednesday morning.
“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” he was quoted as saying in prepared remarks reported by the Associated Press. Newsom went on to call the death penalty “a failure” that “has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation.”
California’s execution protocol has been mired in legal challenges since the mid-2000s.
Voters approved the death penalty in 1978, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it constitutional, but the state has executed just 13 murderers since then, the last in 2006.
In fact, some inmates have been in legal limbo for so long that a judge in 2014 ruled the delays were a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Far more prisoners have died of causes other than lethal injection.
Two dozen death row residents have exhausted their appeals, meaning they could be sent to the execution chamber if challenges to California’s protocol are resolved.
That scenario apparently prompted Newsom to take action.
“We’re poised to potentially oversee the execution of more prisoners than any other state in modern history,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
“The minute I got elected, in the transition, I prioritized this issue,” Newsom said. “I don’t want to react to something. I want to be proactive. And I have been very proactive in trying to determine what the best path is.”
In 2016, California voters had the opportunity to get rid of the death penalty and reduce current death sentences to life in prison but rejected the proposition by a large margin.
Nationwide, executions have plunged from a high of 98 in 1999 to 25 last year, and the number of death sentences is also falling.
States have had increasing difficulty obtaining the drugs for lethal injections, largely because anti-execution campaigners have pressured pharmaceutical companies not to sell their products for the deadly shots. Some conservatives have also pushed for capital punishment rollbacks, while a handful of governors opposed to execution have refused to sign death warrants.