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Nebraska is the first conservative state in 40 years to ban the death penalty

(Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.
  1. Wednesday afternoon, the Nebraska legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, overriding a veto from Governor Pete Ricketts.
  2. Nebraska's legislature is about 70 percent Republican. That makes Nebraska the first conservative state in about 40 years to eliminate the death penalty: per the AP, the last one was North Dakota in 1973.
  3. Nebraska joins a growing number of state and counties abolishing the death penalty, which is becoming increasingly out of fashion in the United States.

The long decline of the death penalty

Nebraska's conservative legislators "argued that the death penalty is a wasteful and ineffective government program that costs too much and accomplishes too little," according to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. That's probably correct: because of intense and extended litigation, imposing the death penalty in the US is significantly more expensive than sentencing someone to life without parole.

This argument, along with other criticisms of the death penalty — it's racially biased, doesn't deter crime, and executes a shocking number of innocent people — appears to be carrying the day nationally. By 2012, prosecutors in 60 percent of American counties were no longer seeking to impose the death penalty in any circumstance. In 2014, there were the fewest number of executions in 20 years.

"What has happened in Nebraska is a microcosm of the steady national trend away from the death penalty in the United States," Dunham wrote in a statement. "Public opinion polls show that support for the death penalty is at a 40-year low nationwide."

So Nebraska looks less like an outlier and more like a harbinger. The death penalty is on death row.

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