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Nebraska Repeals Death Penalty, Over Gov. Veto

Nebraska became the 18th state to ban capital punishment, overcoming a veto by Governor Pete Ricketts. Known as a conservative state with a Republican governor who lobbied against the ban, the legislature voted 30-to-19 to repeal the state's death penalty law.

Nebraska hadn't executed a prisoner since 1997, and was one of many states having trouble procuring lethal injection drugs. It's the first time in 40 years that a Republican-controlled state has abolished the death penalty.

A Losing Battle

Nebraska had only executed three prisoners since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, and only had 11 inmates on death row. Yet Governor Ricketts campaigned hard against the repeal, going so far as to make arrangements with a pharmaceutical company to obtain lethal injection drugs.

And the Governor was not pleased to have his veto of the ban overturned: "My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families," he said in a statement. "While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue."

Losing the War?

Executions in the United States have been declining since 1999 as opposition to the death penalty has risen. Along with 18 states and the District of Columbia which have outright bans on capital punishment, another 14 states have a moratorium on implementing the death penalty. The moratoria are based on reviews of constitutional as well as procedural issues.

In addition, the Supreme Court is currently reviewing methods for lethal injection (used in the 32 states that allow the death penalty), and whether they comply with the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. As death penalty expenses continue to rise, convictions continue to be overturned and methods continue to fail, the kind of cross-party anti-execution consensus formed in Nebraska may spread to other states.

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