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January 31, 2007

Should former Illinois Governor George Ryan get the Nobel Peace Prize?

Soon we will discuss the role of executive clemency, focused in part on the speech (which is at the end of our reading packet) delivered by former Illinois Governor George Ryan to support the "mass clemency" at the end of his term of given to everyone then on Illinois' death row.  In light of that reading and our coming discussion, I thought everyone might find this press release interesting:

University of Illinois College of Law Professor Francis A. Boyle has nominated former Illinois Governor George Ryan for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize because of his courageous and heroic opposition to the death penalty system in America. 

Despite tremendous opposition and criticism, Ryan single-handedly started what he calls a "rational discussion" on capital punishment in 2000 when he declared the Illinois death penalty moratorium. To this day, despite paying a heavy personal price for his courage, integrity, and principles, Ryan remains committed to the principle of seeking justice for the poor and oppressed. Ryan now takes his message globally, recently speaking before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Switzerland, continuing to initiate dialogue against the barbaric use of capital punishment around the world....

As Governor Ryan exposed to the country in 2000, the burden of capital punishment consistently falls upon the poor, the ignorant and the forgotten underpriviledged members of society, and is often used as a racist institution against people of color.  The United States' attitude towards capital punishment is undeniably changing, and as a direct result of Ryan’s historical acts as former Governor of Illinois. 

Ryan exposed capital punishment to be a distorted means of justice rife with flaws and defects, and he began the dialogue that will one day abolish capital punishment in America. Professor Francis A. Boyle has stated that, "George Ryan is the beginning of the end of the death penalty in America," and it is for this reason that he richly deserves to win the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

This press release seems notable not only for what it says, but also for what it does not say.  There is no discussion of wrongful convictions or innocence issues, even though it was innocence concerns that first drew Ryan's attention to the death penalty.  Also, the press release also does not mention that Ryan is now a convicted felon recently sentenced to more than six years in federal prison.

January 31, 2007 in Clemency | Permalink


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I would find Ryan a far more compelling public figure if he would just proclaim his disdain for the death penalty and its outright abolition rather than argue in terms of justice for the poor and oppressed. By use of a mass clemency, he essentially did the opposite of securing justice. Justice would be carefully paying attention to each case, affording each one an opportunity to present their case and paying special attention to any new and compelling evidence. He should not have hid behind this proclamation of seeking justice and instead just admitted he was making a political move by furthering his own interests of being against capital punishment.

Posted by: Shoshana | Jan 31, 2007 12:12:57 PM

As discussed in class, there is a strong possibility that Ryan's motives for focusing on the death penalty were not entirely pure. I think this begs the question: Does motive matter? Ryan may very well have started this entire crusade as a distraction from his impending legal problems, but, in the minds of the anti-death penalty crowd, his results have been outstanding. Are results all we care about?

Posted by: Tiffany L. | Jan 31, 2007 1:25:27 PM

Regardless of ancillary motives and politics, it is commendable of Ryan to make outspoken steps forward for abolition. It is also commendable that efforts were made to nominate him for the advancement of the underlying goals, but also bringing a spotlight to his efforts. The spotlight creates commentary, which alone is a simple yet essential part of the larger movement. Additional awareness as far as legal representation and ultimate inequality within the system is helpful, and it seems such a nomination, regardless of motives, is am impressive step.

Posted by: Andrea E | Feb 25, 2007 8:21:29 PM

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