Nebraska becomes first conservative state to outlaw death penalty in 40 years

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A lethal injection room at an unidentified prison.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of the country’s most conservative states, Nebraska, has outlawed what has long been a central plank of conservative criminal justice policy: the death penalty.

Nebraska legislators overrode a veto from the state’s governor, Republican Pete Ricketts, with the bare minimum number of votes needed to force through a bill in the state’s unicameral legislature.

Ricketts vetoed the bill last week, arguing that state should at least have the option to pursue capital punishment in order to protect the public, even if it used rarely.

No Republican-controlled state has outlawed the death penalty in over 40 years.

“We are a nation that is turning away from the death penalty. This victory stands as a testament to what can happen in our sister states,” Danielle Conrad, the executive director of the Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

Still, in a CNN/ORC poll last month, only 27 percent of respondents said they felt the death penalty did constituted “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Republicans have traditionally supported the death penalty, endorsing the option in the GOP’s 2012 platform for those convicted of capital murder. But the Republicans’ traditional tough-on-crime mantra has begun to soften, with power players like presidential candidate Rand Paul and GOP mega donors Charles and David Koch arguing that the party needs to change its tune on criminal justice issues.

Six states have abolished capital punishment since 2007 — Nebraska is now the seventh.