As we’ve been covering on the blog today, Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen again lay bound on a cot during a vigil and demonstration last night outside the governor’s mansion, the same action that led the state Supreme Court to bar Griffen from hearing death penalty cases last year. In response, Griffen has sued the justices in federal court; Griffen and the Court have also made dueling complaints against each other that are currently under investigation by a special counsel for the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDCC).
Griffen was terse last night when the media asked about his decision to repeat the demonstration, offering only this comment: “We are still killing.” In a new post on his blog today, Griffen has much more to say.
“One year ago I and other members of New Millennium Church took part in a peaceful and reverent Good Friday prayer vigil outside the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion to express our moral and religious opposition to capital punishment and our solidarity with Jesus of Galilee, the leader of our faith who was put to death by crucifixion at the order of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Palestine,” Griffen, a Baptist preacher, wrote. “We remembered that Jesus was a subject of capital punishment.”
“I am as committed to holding and expressing my moral and religious opposition to the death penalty as I was a year ago, if not more so,” Griffen wrote.
Griffen argued that the ban issued by the state Supreme Court violated his First Amendment rights, as well as his right to due process. The ban also violated his right to equal protection under the law, Griffen wrote, “because it is more severe than punishment imposed to white judges who committed notorious and illegal conduct such as accepting a bribe, drunken and reckless driving, and demanding and accepting sexual favors from defendants in exchange for issuing lenient sentences.”
Griffen believes that racial animus played a role in the Court’s action: “I challenged the permanent ban because it resulted from conspiracy by the justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court and others to deprive me of the powers of my elected office based on animosity against me because I am African-American.”
Griffen promised that his legal team “will uncover and expose the facts that bear out my legal claims, facts that the justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court and others are desperate to hide.”
As he has in the past, Griffen forcefully argued that he could impartially uphold the law as a judge even as he remained committed to expressing “moral and religious opposition to the death penalty.”
The crux of the matter for Griffen:
Arkansas law makes death by lethal injection one of two alternative punishments for capital murder (the other alternative is life imprisonment without parole). I followed that law before Good Friday, 2017, and I will follow it whenever my authority to preside over capital cases is restored. I took an oath to follow the law, including laws that I consider objectionable on moral and religious grounds.
My obligation to follow the law does not compel me to agree with every law. The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects my freedom to hold and express moral and religious opposition to the death penalty, including freedom to peacefully and lawfully question the morality of state-sanctioned premeditated and deliberate killing of people who have been convicted for the premeditated and deliberate killing of other persons.
Much more at his blog, which will no doubt have Arkansas Republican legislators atwitter on Twitter.