Furthermore, while the Supreme Court has recently been proactive about protecting groups that have historically been especially vulnerable to the death penalty, such as the mentally retarded and the mentally ill, there is no reason to believe that the Court has any interest in outlawing the death penalty. Even the 1970s moratorium on the death penalty spoke to how it was implemented and never questioned the basic constitutional soundness of capital punishment. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that, absent a constitutional amendment banning the death penalty, the Court will ever completely outlaw the death penalty.
The arguments in opposition to the death penalty touch on a variety of moral issues. First, capital punishment costs much more than life imprisonment, and the necessary appeals clog the court system. This means that fewer financial resources are available for other areas of need, and it also reduces the right of others to access the courts; allocation of resources is a significant moral issue. Second, capital punishment does not deter murders; if a punishment does not deter crime some would argue that it is inappropriate to use that punishment if other punishments can serve the same purpose. In fact, the U.S. is the only western nation to still use capital punishment and it has the highest murder rate among those nations. Capital punishment seems to condone murder, which some people believe is an essentially immoral stance. Capital punishment also creates some public sympathy for murderers, which may increase pain for victim families. In addition, it is not only the prisoner who suffers from capital punishment; his friends and family, who have been convicted of no crime, also suffer from the punishment. (Messerli, 2009).
The arguments in favor of the death penalty also discuss a number of moral issues. First, the death penalty gives closure to victim's families in a way that cannot be accomplished by a lesser sentence. The death penalty fulfills Old Testament promises of justice. The death penalty can serve as a deterrent for specific groups of prisoners; those already serving life sentences who do pose a risk of future danger to other incarcerated persons, prison guards, and visitors. Furthermore, while death penalty advocates acknowledge the possibility of erroneous convictions, they also point out that modern science makes it possible to definitively convict someone, which eliminates the risk of erroneous convictions. (Messerli, 2009). However, the arguments in favor of the death penalty often reveal a deterministic mindset. For example, when discussing the proposed terrorist death penalty act, one of its proponents in the House of Representatives dismissed death penalty concerns by stating that:
Some death penalty opponents have, in some cases, used some disinformation or even deceptive information on occasion to suggest that the death penalty in our country is not accurate. Yet no credible evidence has been provided, known to me, to suggest that a single innocent person has been executed since the Supreme Court imposed the heightened protections in 1976. (U.S. House of Representatives, 2005).
The problem with such a statement is that it ignores the fact that most death penalty opponents do not base their arguments on the likelihood that an innocent person may be executed, but on the fact that the death penalty is imposed in a discriminatory manner or on an argument that the death penalty is immoral. In addition, it depends upon the Representative's definition of credible. There are credible accounts suggesting that factually innocent people have been executed, but the fact that they have been executed means that they will never have the opportunity to have that factual innocence declared in a manner that would satisfy many death penalty advocates.
The above arguments have only briefly touched on religious issues, which is surprising given that morality and religion are so intertwined. In general, advocates of the death penalty believe that it serves out traditional Judeo-Christian ideas of vengeance. Opponents of the death penalty emphasis the role of mercy in modern religions, most particularly Christianity, and suggest that it is God's divine right to exact vengeance, not man's right. However, Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun who has worked extensively in opposition to the death penalty, looks at the issue a little differently. Prejean poses the question, "would Jesus pull the switch"? (Prejean, 1997). Looking at the issue of capital punishment, especially as