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U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., says for the Georgia Supreme Court to consider whether the electric chair is constitutional is “a significant step” in a far larger debate. “The real question, the real issue, is whether we should have a death penalty,” Lewis said Monday in an interview at the Daily Report just hours before the court convened to hear attorneys debate the use of the electric chair. “I see it as a significant step for the Georgia Supreme Court to be debating whether death by electric chair is unusual punishment.” He called it a first step “down a very long road.” The abolition of the death penalty — not just the method of execution — should be at the end of that road, Lewis said. “I’ve taken a very strong stand against the death penalty. I think it represents another period in our history. It is not worthy of a great nation. It is not worthy of a democratic society. I happen to believe that we don’t have the right as a nation — whether it be the federal government or the state government — to take the life of another person.” While the court Monday framed the issue in legal terms, Lewis presented the issue as a moral one. The United States, he said, is one of only a few nations that still apply the death penalty for the most heinous crimes. “I happen to believe that in the bosom of every human being there’s what I call a spark of the divine,” Lewis said. “We don’t have a right to abuse it. That should be left for the Almighty and not for human beings to take the life of another human being.” Neither the government nor its citizenry should sanction execution, he said. “We appeal to the larger society not to kill. We practice the philosophy of nonviolence, and then we use legal machinery to put people to death. I think it’s barbaric. … It is not worthy of a civilized nation.” Lewis suggested that a coalition to abolish the death penalty might be built around the question of its ultimate fairness and the fact “that you just might put the wrong person to death.” The release of death row inmates after DNA tests proved their innocence show that mistakes have been made, he pointed out. “And when you put someone to death,” Lewis said, “there’s not any way to bring that person back. It’s over. … How do [you] make up for that? How do you compensate for that?”

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