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The House gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that hobbles the Racial Justice Act. The vote followed another lengthy debate on a day that drew a full House – literally, the entire House of Representatives showed up. The vote was 73 to 47 along party lines, with five conservative Democrats breaking ranks to vote with Republicans.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. Last year, Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a bill that was meant to torpedo the Racial Justice Act, which allows death-row inmates to use statistical proof of widespread racial bias in North Carolina capital case prosecutions to convert their sentence to life in prison without parole.
The Senate overrode the veto, but the House didn’t have the votes to try. This new attempt at getting rid of the 2009 law was fashioned as a compromise, worked out in private, aimed at convincing the conservative Democrats to break ranks.
The votes on Tuesday and Wednesday show the House has the 72 votes needed for an override, if Perdue vetoes this bill.
An online petition drive has been started: Maintain the Racial Justice Act.
Update, June 19:
I am a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, and with my fellow members have borne witness to the outrageous, cruel injustice of losing a family member to murder. I have also borne witness with them to the outrageous, cruel injustice of sentencing anyone to death as a consequence of racial discrimination.
I grew up in Fayetteville, and remember signs in downtown theaters directing African-Americans to the balcony, and the prominent Ku Klux Klan billboard out on U.S. 301. We can celebrate the progress we have made since then, and we can work to eliminate the remnants of that legacy that persist. There is no more shameful legacy in our state than the racial bias that has infected our use of capital punishment, and the evidence that it persists to this day. All people of good will and conscience are committed to end this bias, once and for all. [more…]