In a rare bit of good news during an otherwise relentlessly bad news cycle, the Washington State Supreme Court has just struck down the state’s death penalty, citing racial bias.
The Court ruled on Thursday that the death penalty, as applied, violates its Constitution. As the Seattle Times reports, the court unanimously ordered that the eight people currently on death row have their sentences converted to life in prison, and five of the justices based their decision on the grounds that the death penalty “is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner” and fails to serve “any penological goals.”
The news is welcome, but not particularly surprising. Back in 2014, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on executions in the state. Inslee, who was a supporter of capital punishment, had spent a year reviewing Washington’s death penalty and found that the system was full of flaws. “When the ultimate decision is death,” he said in his official statement, “there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.” In the wake of the decision, Inslee released a statement calling the ruling “a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”
According to the ACLU, Washington is the 20th state (out of 50, if you recall) to outlaw the death penalty. It joins Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, in banning the practice.