Stephanie Slade on Whether the Tide of Conservative Support for the Death Penalty is Finally Changing


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A New Mexico penitentiary.
Ken Piorkowski

Once upon a time, former Rep. Ron Paul was solidly in favor of capital punishment. Now he's helping to lead the charge for a commutation of the sentence of Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti, who was set to be executed tonight. Minutes ago, a court of appeals announced that the execution would be stayed to allow it "to fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter."

We can't be sure that attitudes are headed for a tipping point. Some three out of four Republicans still say they're in favor of the death penalty, and many of the conservative leaders who joined Paul in asking for a stay of Panetti's execution did so because they believe he's mentally ill, not because they believe capital punishment is inherently wrong.

But conservatives should be skeptical of empowering government—the same government the GOP routinely blasts as incompetent—to decide who's truly insane and who's just faking it, writes Stephanie Slade.