- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A sampling of recent editorials from Arkansas newspapers.

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Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 15, 2015

Whose decision is it?

The common-sense words of Justice Samuel Alito make up the first sentence of the 5-4 June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court: “Because capital punishment is constitutional, there must be a constitutional means of carrying it out.”

Alito wrote the court’s findings in a case brought by death row inmates in our neighboring state to the west, Oklahoma. Those inmates exhausted avenues for challenging their convictions and the resulting death sentences, so they joined the campaign being waged in every capital punishment state by opponents to save murderers by making it impossible for states to execute them.

What’s the point?

Whether the death penalty exists or not should be the decision of each state’s people.

Who are these inmates? Richard Glossip hired a man who beat Glossip’s employer to death with a baseball bat. Benjamin Cole, angry that his 9-month-old daughter would not stop crying, bent her body backwards until he snapped her spine in half. After the child died, Cole played video games. John Grant, already serving 130 years in prison, pulled a prison food service supervisor into a mop closet and repeatedly stabbed her with a shank. Charles Warner raped and murdered an 11-month-old girl.

If states are going to have the death penalty, there is no question these are the kinds of killers it is intended for. Shed tears for their victims, not for them.

For opponents of capital punishment, none of that matters. The brutality of the crime can never be enough to merit executing another human being under the authority of government. And those opponents have in recent years piled up victories in blocking executions — not by changing state laws or moving the electorate to vote against the death penalty or by getting convictions overturned — but by harassing and lobbying foreign pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs necessary to carry out lethal injection. Advocates for death row inmates convinced the companies making sodium thiopental and pentobarbital, both sedatives proven effective in three-drug cocktails used in lethal injection, to stop making them or to make them unavailable for use in executions.

So Oklahoma and other states turned to midazolam as their sedative of choice. Clayton Lockett became the first inmate in Oklahoma to get the deadly concoction, and it didn’t go well. It took Lockett nearly 45 minutes to die, primarily because an intravenous tube delivering the drugs slipped out of his vein but also because Oklahoma didn’t use enough midazolam. Other inmates quickly filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the use of the drug, claiming it violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Naturally, nobody suggests capital punishment opponents had a hand in the problems Lockett experienced. Had sodium thiopental or pentobarbital been available, Oklahoma would not have been introducing a new drug to its lethal cocktail. For whatever pain Lockett might have felt in his last moments, his partners in the anti-death penalty crusade bear some of the responsibility.

Those opponents pinned their hopes on the Supreme Court, but found comfort only in the minority justices’ sympathetic dissents.

The majority in the 5-4 ruling declared the plaintiff murderers had failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that presented a substantially less severe risk of pain than midazolam. The prisoners also failed to establish any likelihood that they could show use of the drug created a demonstrated risk of pain.

Alito described the nation’s history of hanging, electrocution, gas chambers and even firing squads. Writing for the court’s majority, he pointed out the court had “never invalidated a state’s chosen procedure for carrying out a sentence of death as the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.” And if capital punishment is constitutional, well, read the opening paragraph of this editorial.

Because the risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, the court has ruled the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain, Alito wrote. “After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether,” he wrote.

Elimination of the death penalty is not a decision for timid pharmaceutical companies nor is it necessitated by ensuring killers avoid even the pain of having a needle pushed into their veins, as done thousands of times a day in hospitals across the nation. It’s a decision for states and their populations.

Any changes in how states deal with the most brutal killers should play out through public discussion and the will of the people, not through aggressive harassment of private companies or overstepping judges.

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Texarkana Gazette, July 11, 2015

Bad Idea

It’s a tragedy waiting to happen. For all concerned.

Recently a new design for a cellphone case has come to the attention of the media_and the police.

It’s designed to look like a handgun. A fairly realistic looking handgun. Especially from a distance. Where police officers on duty would most likely see it_and react accordingly.

The cases appear to be coming from Asia. And they do not have the distinctive orange mark at the end of the barrel required under federal law for imitation forearms.

That makes them especially dangerous when a police officer has to make a split-second decision.

The danger is compounded at night. These cases look most real when stuffed in the back pocket with only the handle showing, which is the way many people carry their phones. Reach for it at the wrong time and . well, we hope you get the idea.

We understand some folks may find such things cool. But make no mistake_looking cool with this phone case could cost you everything.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 14, 2015

The forgotten judge

It was regularly said of Richard S. Arnold, as it was of Learned Hand before him, that he was the greatest judge never to have sat on the U.S. Supreme Court, though some of us think he put Learned Hand in the shade.

There’s no doubting Chief Judge Hand’s eloquence in his stirring speeches and thoughtful essays, but his law didn’t necessarily match his rhetoric. Especially when he wound up agreeing that a political party—namely, the Communist Party of the United States—could be outlawed as a “clear and present danger.” Judge Hand’s devotion to civil liberties could be limited to his speeches. But it’s hard to imagine Richard Sheppard Arnold ever writing such a decision, much to his credit.

Those given to compiling lists for the law journals (like “The Ten Greatest Judges Never to Have Sat on the Supreme Court”) seem to have no trouble finding such paragons in the history of American jurisprudence, usually beginning with Lemuel Shaw of Massachusetts.

Here in Arkansas, Richard Arnold wouldn’t be the only judge to merit a place on any such list, doubtless at the top. Lest we forget, and too many of us seem to have done just that, there was another federal judge in this state’s law-rich history who deserves honoring: The Hon. and honorable Jacob Trieber, who presided over the U.S. Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas from 1900 until his death in 1927.

It wasn’t the length of his tenure that distinguished Judge Trieber but his groundbreaking jurisprudence. His imaginative reading of the law was matched by his courage in standing up to the “whitecappers,” forerunners of the Klan, when he ruled they couldn’t force employers to fire black workers. Not after Arkansas had adopted the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, and Judge Trieber had decided that the right to work (that is, to make contracts) was an essential element of their emancipation.

The Supreme Court of the time (1906) didn’t agree with Judge Trieber and overturned him, but six decades later (1968) a different Supreme Court made his pioneering decision the law of the land. All it took to undo the court’s earlier mistake was a brief footnote, and justice was done. At last.

What a story. Rick Crawford, the congressman from the First District of Arkansas, whom we hadn’t thought of as much of a phrase-maker till now, paid His Honor Jacob Trieber the ultimate American compliment the other day. “This guy,” he said, “is a movie waiting to happen.”

Till then, naming the federal courthouse in Helena for Judge Trieber, just as the one in Little Rock bears Richard S. Arnold’s name, will have to do. And that’s just what the state’s entire congressional delegation has proposed. It’s about time.

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