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The eccentric lawmaker who helped end Nebraska's death penalty once sued God and compared cops to ISIS

Nebraska state Senator Ernie Chambers attends the AMPAS hosts a screening of "A Time For Burning" at the Academy Theater on October 20, 2008, in New York City.
Nebraska state Senator Ernie Chambers attends the AMPAS hosts a screening of "A Time For Burning" at the Academy Theater on October 20, 2008, in New York City.
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers is a lawmaker with a serious mission: abolishing the death penalty in his incredibly conservative state. It only took 37 tries.

Chambers is a bit of a character in Nebraska politics. The independent from Omaha, who is the state's longest-serving legislator and its first African-American senator, is an eccentric lawmaker. Fusion's Collier Meyerson offers a fascinating rundown of some of his political accomplishments and antics, including the fact that he sued God in 2007 to make a point about frivolous lawsuits, set off a wave of criticism last month for comparing US police officers to ISIS during a hearing on a concealed-gun bill, and eschews suits for T-shirts during legislative sessions.

But what will perhaps define the colorful state senator now is his tireless fight to end the death penalty in his state. Chambers told the Los Angeles Times that he has tried to get rid of capital punishment in Nebraska 37 times.

"The public has grave misgivings about the number of exonerations of people on death row," he told the Times, adding, "the number of exonerations proves that some people have been wrongly executed."

On Wednesday, Chambers's four-decade push paid off when Nebraska became the first conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty, after state lawmakers overrode Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’s veto.

The Nebraska vote comes in a period when a shortage of lethal injection drugs has left many states scrambling to find alternative ways to carry out executions as supplies run out, and public support for capital punishment has waned, reaching its lowest point in 40 years.

Nebraska now joins 18 other states and Washington, DC, in abolishing the death penalty.

This map below outlines the nation’s executions since 1976, the year the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court.

state by state executions death penalty texas

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