Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens to a question at a campaign event in Portsmouth, N.H., last month. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
But as California’s attorney general, Senator Harris defended capital punishment.
The case at the heart of her earlier position is Jones v. Davis, which centers on Ernest Jones, a man on death row for upward of 25 years for raping and murdering his girlfriend’s mother.
In 2015, a federal district court judge ruled that an excessive delay in Jones' execution violated the Eighth Amendment barring cruel and unusual punishment, declaring California’s death penalty unconstitutional. This essentially vacated Jones’ death sentence.
Government prosecutors led by Harris appealed that ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and won, removing the legal barrier that had been issued.
"If she doesn't appeal, she has political issues having to do with why the chief law enforcement officer in the state is acquiescing in a decision that declares this punishment unconstitutional," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a national nonprofit. "Her choice was ultimately to take the appeal so she doesn't risk having the entire death penalty thrown out."
Jones argued that because the period of delay is so long and that many death row inmates face the possibility of never getting executed, it's “arbitrary” that only a few prisoners are ever put to death.
At the time of the case, The San Francisco Chronicle argued in an opinion piece, “Why Does Kamala Harris Defend the Death Penalty?” that prosecutors have wide discretion when recommending punishment for defendants with “no obligation to pursue the death penalty.”
But the op-ed also stated that prosecutors frequently decide not to enact or execute state law. The example given? Both Harris and then-Gov. Jerry Brown both “abandoned the state’s defense of Proposition 8,” which barred same-sex marriage in California.
Neither Harris' Senate office nor her campaign office responded to Fox News' requests for comment.
California has been on the cusp of abolishing capital punishment for several years. Voters had the chance to get rid of it in 2012 in a statewide ballot initiative, but it was rejected by 52 percent of voters.
Newsom plans to grant reprieves to 737 condemned inmates in the state. It houses about a quarter of all death-row inmates in the nation. Since the death penalty was reinstituted in the state in 1978, only 13 executions have been carried out.