Nebraska Politics

The Death Penalty: Or the questionable state of our state government

In January 2018, at the annual Walk for Life event, Governor Pete Ricketts announced that Nebraska is a pro-life state. According to the Lincoln Journal Star, at this same event, Ricketts stated, “Our budget should reflect our values.” Our budget apparently reflects the values of illegally purchasing chemicals for use in lethal injection. On March 12, 2018, the ACLU of Nebraska filed a complaint with the Drug Enforcement Administration. The complaint alleges that the state has failed to follow DEA guidelines for controlled substances. For those playing along at home, a timeline of how the state came to illegally purchase drugs for the purpose of killing other human beings:

In 2015, the Unicameral passed a bill abolishing the death penalty, 32-15. Governor Pete Ricketts then vetoed the bill. In a 30-19 vote, the legislature, with a Republican majority, overrode the veto — speaking not once, but twice, on the value of life in the eyes of Nebraskans.

In 2016, Nebraska voters approved a ballot question reversing the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty and restoring capital punishment in the state. You may remember this referendum, which asked voters whether they wanted to repeal or retain the law passed by the legislature that eliminated the death penalty in Nebraska. While the ballot tried to explain the convoluted nature of the referendum, counterintuitively, repealing the bill would in fact reinstate the death penalty.

It is also important to note that the governor, backed by the vast TD Ameritrade fortune, personally bankrolled the campaign to repeal the law that would have made the death penalty illegal. To the tune of $300,000. The governor, whose veto was overturned by the Unicameral, personally gave money for a campaign to bring back state sanctioned murder. As we have already covered, the governor likes to use his private wealth to get his way.

In 2017, Ricketts drew national attention over his attempts to purchase drugs for executions. For example, a German pharmaceutical group demanded the state return drugs they should never have acquired. And then there was this episode in which Ricketts lost $54,000 of tax payer money trying to buy lethal injection drugs abroad.

The state has also received attention due to the inhumane experimentation in the form of an untested drug cocktail the state plans to use to execute prisoners on death row. As one death penalty group representative said, “It’s literally human experimentation” (the actual protocols for experimenting on humans are extremely strict). Beyond the untried nature of the protocol, it has the potential for causing an excruciating death. Professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University described the potential outcomes in The Washington Post in December: “If the first two drugs don’t work as planned, or if they are administered incorrectly, which has already happened in so many cases … you would be awake and conscious, desperate to breathe and terrified but unable to move at all.” He continued, “It would be an agonizing way to die…but the people witnessing wouldn’t know anything had gone wrong because you wouldn’t be able to move.” This amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, by any definition within U.S. case law. But what is constitutionality to “protecting public safety in our state”?

Ricketts, of course, denies wrongdoing in response to the ACLU’s complaint filed with the FDA. He also defends the drug purchase stating, “We bought them specifically for that purpose (lethal injection).” While the ACLU’s case is built largely around technicalities, it is important to point out that our pro-life governor personally financed the campaign to override the will of the Unicameral, and is now at the head of a state violating federal laws in their desire to kill death row inmates. There is nothing pro-life about state sanctioned murder.

Which brings us to the present in 2018.  Ricketts is up for re-election. Luckily, so is a man who voted twice to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska. We’ll let you find his name in the lists below. We know it’s hard, since that was most of them*.



I want to tie this idea of values and governance together for a second to point out that Pete Ricketts DGAF about the United States Constitution. He’s perfectly content to violate a prisoner’s Constitutional right to not be tortured to death. He’s perfectly content to violate women’s Constitutional rights by defunding Planned Parenthood and other Title X clinics in Nebraska. Ricketts’ senate lackeys have proposed bills that would sharply curtail free speech by imposing mandatory investigations of state employees who dare speak out and would impose McCarthy-era meddling at the University. I recommend our (ok, my) favorite Con Law prof discussing the ways in which LB781 is unconstitutional. And lastly,  Rickett’s fascist tendencies are made clear in a budget demanding the NU system to absorb 30% of state budget cuts. These beliefs are not about the sanctity of life or a conservative budget. These are fascists beliefs, and a desire to remain in power, made clear by a disregard of the Constitution, a desire to reduce access to the type of education that allowed me to research and write this article, and the use of his own fortune to shape state law and its lawmakers.

Did I mention Ricketts is up for reelection this year?

*Foot note: Jerry Johnson of Wahoo flipped his “yes” vote to repeal the death penalty to “no” in the veto override vote. This did not save him from the wrath of Ricketts, who gave $13,000 to the campaign of his opponent. Ricketts also gave $11,000 to Murante, who likewise flipped his vote.