Gov. Bev Perdue today vetoed Senate Bill 9, a measure essentially repealing the 2009 Racial Justice Act. Here's her veto announcement in full:
“I am – and always will be – a strong supporter of the death penalty. I firmly believe that some crimes are so heinous that no other punishment is adequate. As long as I am Governor, I am committed to ensuring that the death penalty remains a viable punishment option in North Carolina in appropriate cases.”
“However, because the death penalty is the ultimate punishment, it is essential that it be carried out fairly and that the process not be infected with prejudice based on race. I signed the Racial Justice Act into law two years ago because it ensured that racial prejudice would not taint the application of the death penalty.”
“I am vetoing Senate Bill 9 for the same reason that I signed the Racial Justice Act two years ago: it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina.”
“Finally, it is important to be clear that the Racial Justice Act does not allow anyone to be released from prison or seek parole. Both my own legal counsel and legal experts from across the State have assured me that even if an inmate succeeds on a claim under the Racial Justice Act, his sole remedy is life in prison without the possibility of parole -- and even that would only occur if a judge first finds that racial discrimination played a significant role in the application of the death penalty."
Republican leaders, who pressed for the measure, were predictably unhappy about its veto, accusing Perdue of playing politics. GOP reacts to Racial Justice Act veto
“As much as Gov. Perdue claims to support the death penalty, she knows the Racial Justice Act and her veto are back-door bans on capital punishment," said Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).
"This is the same double-speak we’ve heard all year from a politician focused more on pandering to the left wing of her party than governing responsibly. Gov. Perdue has a moral duty to uphold public safety for the people of North Carolina and preserve justice for the families of victims murdered in the most heinous crimes – and she has failed. The Senate will override her veto to ensure hardened criminals cannot be released,” Berger said in a statement.
“I am disappointed in yet another decision by Governor Perdue to put politics ahead of principle," said House Speaker Thom Tillis in a statement. "By vetoing this bill, the Governor has turned her back on the families of victims across this state and a vast majority of prosecutors who need every available resource to crack down on violent criminals.”
Democrats who opposed the repeal lauded the veto.
"Racial prejudice has no place in the sentencing of people convicted of serious crimes," said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney (D-Orange) in a statement. "Gov. Perdue deserves our thanks for taking a strong stand for justice with her veto today."
Groups who supported the Racial Justice Act also thanked the governor for vetoing the repeal.
"We applaud Governor Beverly Perdue for the principled leadership she demonstrated today in vetoing Senate Bill 9," said Scott Bass in a statement from Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, a group opposed to the death penalty in general. "We believe her action demonstrates that she carefully listened to murder victim family members with various views on the NC Racial Justice Act, considered the implications of her action for those family members and acted from a deep understanding of the kind of justice that murder victim family members want, need and deserve."
"We applaud her for understanding that racially-biased justice is not justice at all and for reaffirming that she values the lives and the safety of all citizens regardless of race. We call on members of the North Carolina House of Representatives to demonstrate the same principled leadership and valuing of the lives of all citizens regardless of race by upholding the Governor’s veto," Bass added.
Praise also came from the ACLU. “We applaud Governor Perdue for vetoing a measure that ignores the role that race plays in death penalty cases in North Carolina,” said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director. “The Racial Justice Act is a crucial safeguard against well-documented racial discrimination in our state’s capital punishment system. We strongly urge members of the General Assembly to save this landmark law by sustaining the governor’s veto of SB 9.”
The state association of trial lawyers also weighed in.
“The NC Advocates for Justice applauds Gov. Beverly Perdue’s support of the Racial Justice Act as an important safeguard preventing bias from tainting our criminal justice system, said the NCAJ's Dick Taylor in a statement. "The governor has done the right thing by allowing courts to hear the evidence and make informed decisions. NCAJ has appointed a Racial and Ethnic Bias Task Force that is carefully studying the possible role of bias in our system. We plan to release results of the study in 2012."
The Governor has until January 8th, 2012, to call lawmakers back for a special session to try to override her veto if they choose to do so. It would start in the Senate, where Republicans hold a veto-proof 31-19 advantage. The veto's fate in the House is less certain. The measure passed its initial vote on straight party lines there, so Republicans would need to pick up at least 4 Democratic votes to secure an override.