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A Governor Stands Up

And Maryland's death penalty gets a powerful foe.

Thursday, February 1, 2007; Page A14

ABOLISHING Maryland's death penalty did not figure in Martin O'Malley's successful campaign for governor last year or in his announced agenda for this year's session of the state legislature. So the path of least resistance would have been for him to say nothing, or very little, in response to opponents of capital punishment, who are clamoring for its repeal. Instead, he has joined their fight. In doing so he has lent his fledgling administration a sense of purpose and moral clarity.

The governor, who has long opposed capital punishment, could probably have achieved his policy goals by doing nothing. In December, Maryland's Court of Appeals effectively halted executions by ruling that the state's procedures for lethal injections were adopted without adequate legislative oversight. In the absence of a legislative remedy to restart what are already infrequent executions, Mr. O'Malley could have sat back and enjoyed four years as governor without having a single death warrant land on his desk for signature.

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