Editor's Note
California Lawyer

by Martin Lasden

October 2012

So far, the death penalty is alive - if not well - in 33 states. But come November that number could be down to 32. That's when Californians get the chance to vote on Proposition 34, a ballot initiative that would abolish this state's death penalty, while at the same time promising to keep our death row inmates behind bars for the rest of their lives.

For some, of course, capital punishment has always been a moral issue. But if Proposition 34 wins, morality will undoubtedly have very little to do with it. No, what death penalty opponents really think they have going for them this year is the state's budget crisis, which they hope will convince enough voters that we can no longer afford to keep our $184 million-a-year death penalty machine going.

"Two years ago, I wouldn't have thought it was possible for an initiative like this to be enacted," says Santa Clara University School of Law professor Gerald F. Uelmen. "But as with same-sex marriage, the ground on this is shifting very fast."

Uelmen is a longtime observer of death penalty politics. He is also the co-author of a soon-to-be published biography of California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, who struggled mightily with both the morality and legality of capital punishment.

"Personally, Mosk always opposed the death penalty," says Uelmen, who examined the late justice's legacy along with Los Angeles historian Jacqueline R. Braitman ("A Matter of Conscience"). "But he was also committed to applying the law." And throughout much of Mosk's long and storied career, state law clearly supported executions.

"If Mosk were alive today, he would certainly be surprised by how fast sentiment on the death penalty has changed," Uelmen adds. "It's only been twelve years since his death. Back then the possibility of the death penalty being eliminated in California by popular vote wasn't even foreseeable."

Also in this issue, contributing writer Lawrence Hurley previews the U.S. Supreme Court's rehearing this month of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., a case that will likely determine how, if at all, the Alien Tort Statute can continue to be used to assert claims in U.S. courts for human rights abuses abroad ("Global Warning"). Venice attorney Paul Hoffman will confront Kathleen M. Sullivan of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in oral argument before several justices skeptical that any such cases belong in our courts.

This month as well, I am pleased to announce that for 2012 the American Society of Business Publication Editors has honored California Lawyer with four journalism awards, one of which went to senior editor Thomas Brom (his eighth) for his long-running Full Disclosure column ("Dealing for Dollars"). You can find details online at www.asbpe.org. And speaking of awards, we are now accepting nominations for our 17th annual California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year (CLAY) Awards at www.callawyer.com/clayawardnominations.cfm.

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