Debra J. Saunders

When I asked Corrections for an explanation, a spokeswoman sent me a legal brief, signed by Harris, which said: "The state has expended significant time and resources developing a three-drug lethal injection protocol for carrying out the death penalty, and this protocol conforms to a procedure that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court."

Translation: Unlike Washington state, California is sticking with the method least likely to carry out the law.

In a later brief, Harris wrote that under Brown's guidance, Corrections "has begun the process of considering alternative regulatory protocols, including a one-drug protocol, for carrying out the death penalty."

San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe apparently doesn't see a reason to wait. He also has asked a superior court to order a single-drug execution, of convicted killer Robert Fairbank. "At present," the San Mateo brief argues, "the laws of this state are not being enforced by the agency designated to do so."

Because death penalty opponents have been able to use their clout to choke supply, California's supply of the lethal injection pharmaceutical is set to expire in 2014, and the state cannot get any more. Still, the state has stood by the tied-up-in-court three-drug protocol.

Death penalty foes have succeeded in placing a measure on the November ballot to repeal California's death penalty. As it is now, the more than 720 inmates on California's death row are likelier to die from natural causes or suicide than they are from lethal injection. Advocates then can point to the de facto death penalty moratorium and argue that capital punishment is an expensive failure.

Their spokesmen can point to gestures Brown and Harris have made to uphold the law, but Rushford believes that the governor and attorney general are deliberately failing to carry out California's death penalty law. Brown "doesn't want to enforce the death penalty," Rushford said. "That's what I believe, and everything he's done proves it."

Debra J. Saunders

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