WITH NO HEARINGS, no debate and practically no serious discussion, the Senate Judiciary Committee the other day approved a bill to reinstitute the death penalty for a number of federal crimes. The action came when the committee chairman, Sen. Kennedy, suddenly called up a bill introduced by Sens. Dennis DeConcini and Strom Thurmond. Less than five minutes later, the commitee voted, 7 to 6, to send the measure to the full Senate.
This summary action was the result of a deal made by Sen. Kennedy to protect the proposed new federal criminal code that the committee had approved a few minutes earlier. The sponsors of the death penalty bill had agreed not to try to add its provisions to the code on the Senate floor if the Judiciary Committee would report out their bill.
Deal or no deal, the death penalty bill should be stopped before it goes any further. The bill attempts to create federal judicial procedures that comply with limitations the Supreme Court has put on the way a death sentence can be imposed. Someone convicted of a capital offense would be entitled to a sentencing hearing before a judge or jury who would have to determine whether the "aggravating" factors in the case "sufficiently" outweighed the "mitigating" factors so as to justify a death sentence. That procedure would be available in cases of treason, certains kind of espionage and murder.
Regardless of the procedures used to impose it, the death penalty is still a barbaric punishment that has no place in modern-day America. A nation that prides itself on trying to protect human rights around the world shouldn't invite its national government back into the business of executing human beings. The full Senate should put this new death penalty bill to sleep as expeditiously as the Judiciary Committee brought it to life.