This is the start of something new. Not just a New Year, but here at ACLU.org we have some new and exciting programs launching, and more coming up in the near future. Starting this week, we’ll showcase the hot issues from the last seven days. This is your chance to take another look.
This Week on the Blog of Rights
Last Saturday marked the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. The ACLU's Jennifer Dalven reflected on the current challenges to reproductive freedom and new legislation that threatens basic health care for women. And Louise Melling blogged on the conspicuous absence of the word "abortion" in President Obama's Roe statement.
‘Know Your Rights’ Makes a Comeback
We rely on the police to keep us safe and treat us all fairly, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion. Check out the ACLU's Know Your Rights card, and watch Elon James White's video version.
That's from Katie Smith's "This Week in Civil Liberties" (ACLU Blog of Rights) and that's something we can all look forward to each week. I think it's a great idea.
And I was looking for something different to highlight tonight and C.I. slid this over to me. Francis A. Boyle is a law professor at the University of Illinois' College of Law and he has nominated Governor George Ryan for the Nobel Peace Prize:
University of Illinois College of Law Professor Francis A. Boyle nominated retired Illinois Governor George H. Ryan for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize because of his courageous, heroic, and principled opposition to the racist and class-based death penalty. The Illinois General Assembly just voted to abolish the death penalty--a life-long objective of Professor Boyle, a Native Illinoisan. See his article "Teaching Against the Death Penalty," 21 J. Development Alternatives & Areas Studies, No. 1 & 2, at 90-96 (March-June 2002), which recounts his experiences at teaching against the death penalty since his arrival at the College of Law in August of 1978. Together with his former student Karen Conti and her partner Greg Adamski, they served as Co-Counsel to prevent the execution of convicted mass-murderer John Wayne Gacey by then Governor Jim Edgar. The three of them won a Request for a Stay of Execution by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Governor Edgar on the grounds that the Illinois lethal injection procedure constituted torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Nevertheless, Governor Edgar violated this Request and illegally tortured Mr. Gacey to death over a period of eighteen minutes. But thanks to Governor George Ryan there have been no similar executions by the State of Illinois for over a decade. Boyle was elected by the 200,000 members of Amnesty International USA to serve two two- year terms on their Board of Directors from 1988 to 1992. The Nobel Peace Prize Winning Amnesty International is an abolitionist organization that will work to prevent the execution of any human being for any reason. So will Professor Boyle. Amnesty International also opposes the torture of human beings for any reason. So does Professor Boyle.
This is Wikipedia on Governor Ryan and capital punishment:
Ryan helped to renew the national debate on capital punishment when, as governor, he declared a moratorium on his state's death penalty in 2000. "We have now freed more people than we have put to death under our system," he said. "There is a flaw in the system, without question, and it needs to be studied." At the time, Illinois had executed 12 people since the re institution of the death penalty in 1977, with one execution, that of Ripper Crew member Andrew Kokoraleis occurring early during Ryan's term. Ryan refused to meet with religious leaders and others regarding "a stay of execution" in light of the impending 'moratorium' and other facts relative to the 'flawed' capital punishment system in Illinois; in fact, under Ryan's governorship, 13 people were released from jail after appealing their convictions based on new evidence. Ryan called for a commission to study the issue, while noting, "I still believe the death penalty is a proper response to heinous crimes... But I believe that it has to be where we don't put innocent people to death."
The issue had garnered the attention of the public when a death row inmate, Anthony Porter, who had spent 15 years on death row, was within two days of being executed when his lawyers won a stay on the grounds that he may have been mentally disabled. He was ultimately exonerated with the help of a group of student journalists at Northwestern University who had uncovered evidence that was used to prove his innocence. In 1999 Porter was released, charges were subsequently dropped, and another person, Alstory Simon, confessed and pleaded guilty to the crime Porter had been erroneously convicted of.
Ultimately, on January 11, 2003, just two days before leaving office, Ryan commuted (to "life" terms) the sentences of everyone on or waiting to be sent to Illinois' death row – a total of 167 convicts – due to his belief that the death penalty could not be administered fairly. He also pardoned four inmates, Aaron Patterson, Madison Hobley and Leroy Orange (who were released), and Stanley Howard. However, Patterson is currently serving 30 years in prison after being arrested for drug trafficking he committed after his release from death row. Howard remains in prison for an alleged armed robbery. Ryan declared in his pardon speech that he would’ve freed Howard if only his attorney had filed a clemency petition; Ryan then strongly urged investigators to examine Howard's alleged robbery case, because it appeared to be as tainted as his murder conviction.
These were four of ten death row inmates known as the "Death Row 10," due to widely reported claims that the confessions that they had given in their respective cases had been coerced through police torture. Ryan is not the first state governor to have granted blanket commutations to death row inmates during his final days in office. Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller also commuted the sentence of every death row inmate in that state as he left office after losing his 1970 bid for a third two-year term, as did New Mexico Governor Toney Anaya before he left office in 1986.
Ryan won praise from death penalty opponents: as early as 2001 he received the Mario Cuomo Act of Courage Award from Death Penalty Focus, in 2003 the Rose Elizabeth Bird Commitment to Justice Award from the same organization, and in 2005 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Many conservatives, though, were opposed to the commutations, some questioning his motives, which came as a federal corruption investigation closed in on the governor and his closest political allies (see below). Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan called Ryan "pathetic", and suggested that the governor was attempting to save his public image in hopes of avoiding prison himself. Buchanan noted "Ryan announced his decision to a wildly cheering crowd at the Northwestern University Law School. Families of the victims of the soon-to-be-reprieved killers were not invited."
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"