Huge Victory Over Secrecy in Executions

The most significant accomplishment of VADP during the 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly was the defeat of a compounding pharmacy execution drug secrecy bill (SB 1393).  Together with its main legislative partners, the Virginia Catholic Conference and the ACLU of Virginia, VADP coordinated testimony and issued action alerts in opposition to SB 1393.

The new VADP Executive Director, Michael Stone, was able to recruit two University of Richmond Law School professors to testify against SB 1393 in the state Senate and House of Delegates and to educate legislators on constitutional problems with the bill:

  • Corinna Lain – Former Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, Associate Dean, and author of articles on constitutional theory and the death penalty (especially the 8th Amendment).
  • Kevin Walsh – Former clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court, Professor, and author of articles on doctrines defining the scope of federal judicial power.

In addition to keeping the identity and materials used by a compounding pharmacy, the original version of SB 1393 had incredibly sweeping secrecy language about the execution process itself:

All information relating to the execution process and the buildings devoted to the execution process and all records regarding the equipment used in the execution process shall be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.) and shall not be subject to discovery or introduction as evidence in any civil proceeding unless good cause is shown.

Thanks to serious Constitutional questions raised by Professor Lain and the Virginia Press Association, the bill’s sponsor deleted this entire section before it was narrowly passed (7-6) by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.  Three Republicans voted against the bill in committee, but passage was assured due to the absence of two Democratic Senators due to injury and illness.

After winning passage on the floor if the Senate (23-14), VADP and its allies worked against the bill in the House of Delegates.  Professor Walsh and the Virginia Press Association raised serious questions about provisions in SB 1393 and amendments were adopted to further weaken the bill.

Ultimately SB 1393 was passed by the House Courts of Justice Committee (12-6).  However, the bill was defeated on the floor of the House of Delegates (42-56).  All 32 Democrats and 24 Republicans (over a third of the House caucus) voted against SB 1393.

Conventional political wisdom was that SB 1393 would easily pass in the House of Delegates.  However, its stunning defeat shows that Virginia legislators are no longer knee-jerk supporters of anything related to capital punishment.

Some Delegates opposed SB 1393 because of the secrecy provisions.  Others opposed it because they don’t trust the judicial system enough to let it take the lives of citizens.  And some, like the majority of the people in this country, voted against the bill because they oppose the death penalty.

It is clear that opposition to the death penalty is growing in Virginia.  VADP must continue to find, mobilize, and organize the varied opposition until it becomes powerful enough to abolish capital punishment.