The North Carolina House of Representatives is just one vote away from repealing the Racial Justice Act. A subcommittee approved the bill just after Memorial Day, sending it to the House floor for a final vote. Chances are slim that the bill will not pass, and Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to sign it. The law will go into effect immediately. We wrote about the bill in April, when it passed the Senate.
The bill may go into effect the moment the governor signs, but it includes a provision that reaches back in time. Under the bill, all appeals filed under the Racial Justice Act will be void. That means that every pending appeal from a death row inmate who believes his murder conviction was tainted by racial bias will be stopped in its tracks.
The bill does not touch the few appeals that have made it through the process if an appellate court upholds the decision. It looks as if the bill will not send any inmates back to death row without additional court proceedings.
The new law may hasten execution for the remaining death row inmates. As we discussed in April, the bill includes protections for medical professionals involved in executions. With those protections in place, the legal barriers to executing prisoners are gone.
Defenders of the Racial Justice Act have argued for years that the act may have its flaws but so does the system. There is no reason, they say, to assume that racial bias is not a problem simply because the vast majority of inmates on death row filed appeals under the law.
As one legislator put it, the process helped to uncover strong evidence in his own Cumberland County that North Carolina’s racially charged history is still very much a part of its present, and that is a lesson that cannot be unlearned.
Source: The Fayetteville Observer, “Racial Justice Act: Death penalty measure advances in N.C. House,” Chris Kardish, May 30, 2013