The House yesterday approved a tough, election-year anti-crime bill but agreed to include provisions barring execution of prisoners who demonstrate their death sentence was imposed because of racial discrimination.
The bill was approved on a 368 to 55 vote. It goes back to the Senate, which has passed its own version, and likely to a conference committee to resolve differences.
On one of the bill's most controversial features, the House voted 216 to 204 to reject an amendment that would have removed a racial justice provision for the appeal of death penalty cases.
That provision would allow death row inmates to use racial statistics in their appeals to show the sentencing courts were biased, and bars execution of prisoners who demonstrate their death sentence was imposed because of racial discrimination. The House adopted another amendment lessening the burden of proof on the government to counter such evidence.
The Senate excluded such a provision when it passed its version of the crime bill, and the issue will have to be resolved in a conference committee.
Attorney General Dick Thornburgh yesterday reminded legislators that President Bush has threatened to veto "a bill that imposes racial quotas on our death penalty laws" and said conferees "must delete this misguided provision."
Supporters of the amendment said it might abolish the use of the death penalty, and they cited evidence that blacks are more likely
to be sentenced to die than are
Rep. Jim Slattery (D-Kan.) cited what he said was an "incredible fact: never in the history of this country has a white man been convicted and executed for killing a black man or any minority."
"As far as I'm concerned," Slattery said, "that makes the case there has been discrimination in the imposition of capital punishment."
Congressional staffers said that assertion covered the more than 125 executions carried out since capital punishment resumed in 1977.
The entire Virginia delegation, except Rep. Jim Olin (D), voted for the bill. Maryland's Reps. Tom McMillen (D), Kweisi Mfume (D), Helen Delich Bentley (R) and Constance A. Morella (R) supported the bill; Beverly B. Byron (D), Benjamin L. Cardin (D), Roy Dyson (D) and Steny H. Hoyer (D) voted against it.