Rep. Don Bacon: Death Penalty Was 'Part of the Spirit of the Founders'

Watch the full interview on ASP.

As part of A Starting Point's (ASP) Counterpoint series, Representatives Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) debate whether the U.S. should abolish the death penalty.

Currently, capital punishment is authorized federally, in the military and in 27 states, with Virginia the most recent state to ban its use.

The debate began with a discussion of statistics and constitutionality.

Jacobs believes the death penalty should be abolished and called it unconstitutional.

"The constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment," she said. "This is both cruel, unusual and unjustly implemented."

She noted that people of color are overrepresented on death row and that someone convicted of killing a Black man is 13 times less likely to be sentenced to death than someone who killed a white woman.

Jacobs added that the legal system is predicated on the notion that people are innocent until proven guilty because the founding fathers "recognized it was worse to have an innocent person punished than have a guilty person go free."

"The state has killed many innocent people with the death penalty," she said. "Even if it was just one, it would be one too many."

Bacon does not support the abolition of the death penalty and countered that capital punishment is constitutional. He said it was part of the justice system when the constitution was written and was "part of the spirit of the founders."

He also disagreed with Jacobs' data, saying there is "no evidence that people who were innocent were executed," though people on death row have been released on appeal or after DNA testing.

Ultimately, the debate came down to justice and the value of human life.

Bacon shared that one man on death row in Nebraska tortured, raped and killed three young boys.

"If you value human life, what equals the premeditated cold-blooded murder of a victim?" he asked.

For him, 30 to 50 years in jail won't do it.

"The right way to defend life is to hold someone accountable with their life for first-degree murder," he added.

Jacobs said her heart goes out to victims and their families but "killing the person who perpetrated the crime is not going to bring their family member back and not going to reduce the harm they were caused."

She wants to focus on addressing crime, and make sure that families do not go through the pain other families have gone through.

"Capital punishment does not deter crime," Jacobs said. "The thing that deters crime is whether or not you think you are going to get caught, not how harsh the sentence is."

In terms of justice and morality, Jacobs said, "a society that respects life needs to respect life in all areas."

"It's not about whether the person deserves to be killed, but whether we deserve to say who gets to be killed," she said.

In his final point, Bacon said that the death penalty gives victims justice.

"To do otherwise is devaluation and dishonoring of life when someone who commits these kinds of crimes is not held accountable with their own [life]."

Death Penalty
Abraham Bonowitz of Columbus, Ohio, joins fellow members of the Abolitionist Action Committee during an annual protest and hunger strike against the death penalty outside the U.S. Supreme Court on July 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C. The committee has been organizing the Starvin' for Justice: Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty protest for 26 years. Representatives Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) debate the abolition of the death penalty as part of A Starting Point's Counterpoint series. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images