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Entries in abolish (2)

Monday
Feb182013

Mississippi Officially Abolishes Slavery, Ratifies 13th Amendment

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(JACKSON, Miss.) -- Two medical school colleagues, one an immigrant from India, the other a life-long Mississippian, joined forces to resolve a historical oversight that until this month had never officially been corrected.

The oversight was no small one either. Until February 7, 2013, the state of Mississippi had never submitted the required documentation to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, meaning it never officially had abolished slavery.

The amendment was adopted in December 1865 after the necessary three-fourths of the then-36 states voted in favor of ratification.  Mississippi, however, was a holdout; at the time state lawmakers were upset that they had not been compensated for the value of freed slaves.

Dr. Ranjan Batra, professor of Neurobiology and Anatomical Sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told ABC News he was inspired to investigate the history of the Thirteenth Amendment in his state after a viewing of the film Lincoln.

“At the end of the story there was an open question about how the ratification process proceeded,” he said.  “Living in the South as I do, I found that a pretty big open question.”

So Batra proceeded to do some investigating of his own, noticing on the website usconstitution.net that there was an asterisk next to the state of Mississippi in connection with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

“Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995, but because the state never officially notified the U.S. Archivist, the ratification is not official,” reads the statement on the website.  Batra felt compelled to act to rectify the clerical oversight.

“Mississippi gets a lot of bad press about this type of stuff and I just felt that it is something that should be fixed, and I saw every reason that could be done,” he said.  “Everyone here would like to put this part of Mississippi’s past behind us and move on into the 21st century rather than the 19th.”

So Batra enlisted the help of University of Mississippi Medical Center colleague Ken Sullivan, who took an immediate interest in the story, calling the national archives to confirm that they had in fact never received the proper paperwork.  Sullivan then took a trip to the state archives to acquire a copy of the bill.

“The last paragraph [of the bill] directs the Secretary of State of Mississippi to inform the national archives of the law of the ratification which is exactly the way ratification is supposed to proceed, but that hadn’t been done for whatever reason,” said Batra.

Sullivan took his family to see Lincoln and told ABC News the film inspired him further to correct this historical oversight.  “I had that information when I went to see Lincoln that weekend, I knew really what I was fixing to be a part of and it was overwhelming,” he said.  “It was humbling to know that such a big part of the nation’s history and a huge part of my state’s history was involved in this, people stood up and applauded at the end of the movie, the first time I have ever seen that for any movie,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan then contacted the office of the Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who quickly agreed to file the required documentation to the National Archives and make the ratification official.  On February 7, Director of the Federal Register Charles A. Barth wrote that he had received the notification. “With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” he wrote.

“For me it was just important that this part of history was done from our state,” said Sullivan.  “I know we have some dark spots in our history through the South, it still affects people’s opinions about Mississippi today.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar092011

Illinois Becomes the 16th State to Abolish the Death Penalty

David J. Sams/Getty Images(SPRINGFIELD, Ill.) -- In a ceremony behind closed doors Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill that will make Illinois the 16th state to abolish the death penalty.

"I have concluded that our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed," said Quinn in a statement issued after the signing.

"Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it," he said.

It has been eleven years since a death sentence has been carried out in the state. In 2000, then Republican Governor George Ryan ordered a moratorium on executions fearing that the Illinois' death penalty system might be at risk of executing the innocent. Ryan had been an ardent supporter of the death penalty, but changed his mind when he saw a rising number of exonerations of death row inmates in Illinois courts.

Foes of the death penalty had urged Gov. Quinn to sign a law to abolish the executions completely.
The issue has been politically delicate for Quinn who has always said that he supports the death penalty but he’s been concerned about how the system works.

The state legislature passed the ban in January, and the Governor has put off signing it to listen to voices on both sides.

Cook County State's Atty Anita Alvarez, IL Atty General Lisa Madigan, and the families of murder victims encouraged the Governor to keep the most severe penalty on the books.

A group of men wrongfully convicted, who were cleared from death row when Gov. Ryan issued his moratorium on the death penalty a decade ago spoke in favor of the ban.

"I think we're on the right side of history here," said Rep. Karen Yarbrough, a sponsor of the bill, "I appreciate the Governor taking the time it took to listen to the other voices out there.  We all took time to really look at this and we're standing on the shoulders of other legislators who have inched this thing along."

15 people remain on death row in Illinois, and the bill does not directly address what will happen to those people. The new law takes effect July 1.

"This is a turning point," says Shari Silberstein, Executive Director of Equal Justice, which advocates for the abolishment of the death penalty. "Illinois is significant because it has had a moratorium on executions for eleven years, convened two study commissions, and enacted a series of reforms aimed at fixing the system. But still, exonerations continued, the costs went through the roof and victim's family members were left in limbo. Today sends a message that after all of that effort, the ultimate conclusion of Illinois law makers was that it cannot be made to work."

A part of the bill provides that the funds that are going to be saved by repealing the death penalty are going to be reallocated to services for victim's families and training for law enforcement.

"Illinois is the first state to do something positive for victim's families on public safety with the funds that were previously wasted on the death penalty." said Silberstein.

Nationwide, death penalty sentences have plunged to their lowest levels in the last few years due to a concern of the risk of executing the innocent, the high costs of capital punishment, and fears over the method of lethal injection used in each of the 35 states that allow the death penalty.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio