Whipping Post No Longer An Acceptable Form of Criminal Punishment
Up in smoke: Laws—both good and bad—come and go. While the state has welcomed gay marriage, it took a while for other measures—like public lashings—to go away.
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It was a cruel and dark thing. A man who was whipped in the 1940s for stealing a car talked about it during a newspaper interview in the 1960s. “It made me feel like an animal,” he said. “It doesn’t rehabilitate anyone. It degrades him. It makes him worse.”
The state pretty much knew it. A photo of a whipping in 1935 found its way into a Philadelphia newspaper and became an embarrassment. The legislators went right to work and made it a crime to take a camera to a whipping.
Lashing actually stayed on the books until 1972, when a determined state senator pushed through a massive revision of the criminal code and got rid of it. People may have heard of the legislator who did it. Fellow named Mike Castle.
There is plenty of other stuff that has caused the state to echo the raven and say, “Nevermore.”
Some of it was around for a long time, some of it barely at all. Both happened because of the new law on gay marriage. Not only did it let gay people wed, which had never been recognized by the state before, but it also brought civil unions to a quick close. They were here for a short year and a half before they were on their way out.
So What Else is Old?
Smoke gets in the ayes. On a November night 11 years ago, ashtrays disappeared from restaurant tables and bar counters. Delaware had enacted an indoor smoking ban. Nobody was more surprised about it than the legislators who voted “aye” and made it the law.
The smoking ban was controversial. Ruth Ann Minner, the Democratic governor, was for it, and so were people who saw it in terms of health, environment and workplace conditions, but it was opposed not just by the tobacco industry, but also by the casino and restaurant interests who feared they could lose their clientele, as well as by people who flat out thought the government had no right to tell them where they could smoke.
It was a painful vote for the legislators. They had constituents with strong sentiments on both sides, so they turned to an old favorite. They figured they could play keep-away with the bill.
The idea was for the Senate to pass a bill in a form that would be unacceptable to the House of Representatives, and vice versa, and bat it back and forth between the two chambers without ever agreeing on a version that would go to the governor for her signature. It was a classic way to duck responsibility and point fingers.