I missed the Republican presidential debate last night in favor of attending rugby practice–a decision I do not regret in the slightest–but apparently, the biggest applause line of the night came when Brian Williams mentioned the record number of executions under Texas Governor Rick Perry’s watch. Many people have already commented on the crowd’s ghoulish reaction (my favorite one is here), but what I find most interesting is the way Perry elides Williams’ question:
WILLIAMS: Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?
PERRY: No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.
But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.
Perry seems to believe that these due process protections exist for the sake of the guilty, not the innocent. He assumes away the very core of Williams’ question. The point is that we don’t know for certain that these people committed heinous crimes, and Perry has proved absolutely incurious about the possibility that Texas might have convicted innocent people. He actively fought an inquiry that could have revealed Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by the state of Texas in 2004, was in fact innocent, and he continues to block potentially exculpatory DNA testing in the case of death row inmate Hank Skinner.
Perry effectively assumes guilt in death penalty cases. He has to. If he allowed himself to believe that these people might be innocent, he would have to entertain the possibility that he is a murderer himself. So, yes, Rick Perry sleeps just fine at night–because he refuses to believe that he could be wrong.