Dianne Feinstein Decides She's Against the Death Penalty While Running for a Fifth Senate Term

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On Wednesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein made a surprising statement to the Los Angeles Times: After decades of touting her support for capital punishment, she no longer backs the death penalty.


“Several years ago I changed my view of the death penalty. It became crystal clear to me that the risk of unequal application is high and its effect on deterrence is low,” she said in a statement to the Times.

It’s unclear when, exactly, Feinstein’s thinking on capital punishment shifted. This reversal of a long-held position, one she previously campaigned on—“Yes, I support the death penalty,” she proudly said in a 1990 campaign ad—is just the latest example of Feinstein moving to the left amid pressure from progressives.

Feinstein, who is 84, is running for her fifth term in the U.S. Senate. She’s facing a challenge in the Democratic primary from California state Senator Kevin de León. In the face of this challenge, Feinstein has somewhat backed away from some of the centrist beliefs on criminal justice and U.S. spying that helped get her elected in the first place.

While running for governor of California in 1990, Feinstein was booed on the floor of the state’s Democratic Party Convention for proudly reiterating her support for the death penalty. “Yes, I support the death penalty,” she said at the time. “The people of this state want to be protected, and I aim to protect them.”

After Feinstein initially signaled support for Gina Haspel’s confirmation to lead the Central Intelligence Agency—and was criticized for doing so—she voted against Haspel’s confirmation. Feinstein also changed her mind on marijuana sentencing, and said earlier this month that she now supports a federal law to prevent the government from cracking down on states like California, which have legalized and decriminalized marijuana use, after she for years opposed legal weed.

Feinstein will almost certainly win re-election this November, though because of California’s “jungle primary” system, De León could very well end up on the general election ballot even if he loses to Feinstein in the June 5 Democratic primary. Still, it is heartening to see that senior politicians like Feinstein can change their minds—even if for purely strategic reasons.