Following action by Oregon’s governor to commute all of its state’s death sentences, Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle and Blake Hounshell in the New York Times examined whether Governor Gavin Newsom might do the same in California. (It was Hounshell’s last column. Tragically, he died the day after his piece was published. (See here and here.))

Both articles note that Newsom’s path to clearing the state’s death row is complicated by the state constitution’s requirement that commuting the sentences of any of the hundreds of condemned prisoners who have been “twice convicted of a felony” can be accomplished only “on recommendation of the Supreme Court, 4 judges concurring.”

Soon after Newsom imposed a temporary moratorium on executions in California in 2019, something he could do without Supreme Court approval, an Associated Press article reported he was “considering commuting death sentences as ‘a next step’ once state Supreme Court justices explain why they blocked 10 non-death commutations sought by former Gov. Jerry Brown” in 2018.  (Link added.)

In April 2021, Newsom’s office declined an At The Lectern request for a comment whether he is still waiting for further elucidation from the court before moving to commute any death sentences, even those commutations for which he doesn’t need court approval, i.e., for condemned prisoners who have not been convicted of multiple felonies.


Governor Newsom’s death penalty actions shouldn’t affect the Supreme Court . . . yet

Claiming “racial discrimination infects the administration of California’s death penalty,” Governor submits amicus brief supporting defendant’s appeal

Motions fail to pry loose Supreme Court’s clemency denial reasons

“Court’s rejection of Brown’s pardons demands explanation”

“Few clues to state high court’s crackdown on governor’s clemency grants”

LA Times criticizes Supreme Court for not explaining clemency blocks. Can the court still remedy that?

“Jerry Brown Has the Power to Save 740 Lives. He Should Use It.”

Despite prosecutors’ fears, still no evidence of mass (or any) death penalty commutations

Supreme Court explains its role in evaluating gubernatorial pardons and commutations