Major summer events include Amtrak agreement, death penalty overturn

Joe Biden
Courtesy of Marc Nozell
Vice President Joe Biden speaks on the need to invest in public transportation at the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station.

BY , EXECUTIVE EDITOR
AND , MANAGING NEWS EDITOR

Within the very station that bears his name, Vice President Joe Biden paused for a moment, allowing the metal hum and ring of passing railroad cars to fill the station.

Punctuated by a stray tear, he continued.

“The station manager wears a button, without my having known it, that he’s been wearing since memorial day last year, [that] says Beau Biden,” the Vice President said. “This is family…these are my best friends in the world,” he continued, referring not only to Amtrak CEO Joseph H. Boardman and Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez, who stood on either side of the Vice President, but also the conductors and staff seated in the audience.

In what might otherwise be seen as an Amtrak PR event, the Vice President brought a rousing display of pathos to the announcement of a $2.45 billion loan from the federal government, the largest loan in the history of the Department of Transportation.

Having ridden the rails from Wilmington to D.C. over the last 36 years, Biden is a staunch advocate for Amtrak, public transportation and funding national infrastructure.

“We need these kinds of investments to keep this region, and our whole country, moving and to create new jobs,” the Vice President said. “Why in this country are we so boneheaded to not understand the essential value of a rail system! …We don’t get it yet.”

The loan will be used to support the Northeast Corridor of Amtraks rail system including 28 new trains, facility and safety improvements, and track infrastructure.

The loan, along with the abolition of Delaware’s death penalty, are two major developments with serious implications regarding Delaware governance and operations.

On Aug. 2, Delaware’s Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, citing its procedure of capital punishment as a direct violation of the Sixth Amendment.

The death penalty, which was reintroduced to Delaware legislation in March 1974 following the ruling of Furman v. Georgia — a trial that resulted in more consistent application of capital punishment — might see its final eradication from the state of Delaware.

By placing the power to override a decision in the hands of a judge rather than a jury — a regulation that remains upheld both in the state of Alabama and Florida — the Court found the practice incongruent with the values mandated by the United States Constitution, according to The News Journal.

Gov. Jack Markell, a staunch advocate against the practice, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision, hoping that the ruling would usher an end to capital punishment in the state.

“As I have come to see after careful consideration, the use of capital punishment is an instrument of imperfect justice that doesn’t make us any safer,” Markell told The News Journal.

Delaware now joins the 18 other states who have already made legislative change abolishing the death penalty. However, prior to the ruling, Delaware ranked third in number of executions performed per capita since 1974 behind Oklahoma and Texas, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

While ongoing death row lawsuits can no longer be tried as capital crimes, the fate of the 13 inmates already placed on death row awaiting their execution dates remains undetermined.

With the exception of defendants who were minors during the time of their commission and mentally retarded individuals, the only capital crime punishable by death in the state was first-degree murder with at least one statutory aggravating circumstance, according to the rulings of Roper v. Simmons and Atkins v. Virginia.

While the mandate has already been decided, the motion has not escaped opposition from members of political groups in support of the death penalty. Many are lobbying for the General Assembly to amend the statute’s language in order to keep the practice alive, according to the News Journal.

Meanwhile, other advocacy groups like the Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty (DCODP) have voiced their content with the ruling.

“Thanks belong to so many people who worked so hard toward the victory,” the DCODP wrote in a letter written following the court’s Aug. 2 decision.

While they recognize the significance of the ruling, they are wary that the Delaware Department of Justice might decide to challenge the Court’s decision.

“The Delaware death penalty has gone and then returned in the past,” the DCODP said. “We will remain vigilant.”

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