The boring, joyless, yet scientific approach to lawmaking should apply to all legislation, most especially those hot-button bills that stir up so much emotion among lawmakers and private citizens alike. If you ever get to watch a congressional hearing on an issue as explosive as death penalty and end up dying of boredom from all of the technical data being discussed, well… at least you know our lawmakers are doing their jobs right.
Having endured years of committee hearings, technical working groups, interpellations, and periods of amendment as a legislative staff member, I can tell you this:
Law making is, for the most part, boring. Really boring.
Despite what popular political TV dramas might suggest, successfully shepherding a bill through Congress is more about reading position papers and analyzing datasheets in stuffy back offices than fiery made-for-TV rhetoric on the plenary floor. Less gift of gab, more of everything drab.
And that’s exactly how it should be. After all, effective lawmaking is more of a science than an art. After being presented with a societal problem that requires the creation or amendment of a law, the legislator should aim to find the most reasonable and value-adding solution to that problem based on the available data and evidence on hand.
For the most part, Congress generally follows this clinical, almost detached approach to lawmaking. Unfortunately, there are many instances when legislators depart from this approach, and they almost always involve ‘hot button legislation’.
Hot button legislation refer to impactful yet contentious bills which are so polarizing that even apolitical or apathetic citizens end up forming strong opinions about them. One example is the Death Penalty Bill currently pending in Congress. If you were to interview any ten random Filipinos at any public place, I’m guessing at least eight or nine of them would be decidedly for or against the death penalty.
When hot button issues like death penalty are the subject of legislative deliberations,the boring legislative process becomes a whole lot more exciting. Advocates on both sides exchange bruising blows in press statements and interviews.Highly-charged rhetoric replaces position papers and data sheets in committee hearings. In fact, the debate on the death penalty became so heated during the 17th Congress that anti-death penalty congressmen were stripped of their chairmanships. The ensuing political chaos set the stage for a dramatic coup d’etat on SONA Day, resulting in a complete overhaul of the House leadership.
It is truly a sad irony that the most important legislation are often the ones crafted through the least scientific processes. The Death Penalty Bill is a perfect example. The messaging of advocates is simple but brutal:
‘Kill therapists. Kill the murderers. Kill the drug dealers. This will deter crime.’
It would be a different story if this brutal message was supported by some sort of evidence to prove it. Death penalty advocates, however, have provided little if any empirical evidence to support their arguments. Their message is wholly reliant on generalizations and anecdotes supported by their personal concepts of justice.
However, recent studies indicate that the death penalty actually does little to deter crime. A 2017 study by Hong and Kleck on news coverage of U.S. executions and homicides found that executions only produced a deterrent effect on crime for a single day: the execution day itself. Meanwhile, another 2017 study closer to home found that neither death sentences nor executions produced any deterrent effect on homicides and robbery-homicides in Japan.
Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive review of related literature on the subject. Admittedly, research into the topic has produced mixed results. My point, however, is merely this: Considering that some empirical evidence does in fact exist to rebut the deterrence argument, it is unacceptable for death penalty advocates to continue using bombastic rhetoric and vague platitudes in place of actual data to support their claims.
This is why lawmaking should be boring, as joyless as it may be. The boring, joyless, yet scientific approach to lawmaking should apply to all legislation, most especially those hot-button bills that stir up so much emotion among lawmakers and private citizens alike. If you ever get to watch a congressional hearing on an issue as explosive as death penalty and end up dying of boredom from all of the technical data being discussed, well… at least you know our lawmakers are doing their jobs right.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS