Members of Congress push for end to the federal death penalty
Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2021 / 03:55 pm MT (CNA).- Dozens of members of Congress are urging the Attorney General-designate to stop use of the federal death penalty.
In a letter to Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland on Tuesday, 45 members of the House—led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Adriano Espillat (D-N.Y.)—asked Garland to work with Congress on legislation to end the federal death penalty, once he is confirmed.
In addition, they asked Garland to take specific steps to halt or end use of the death penalty nationwide, including by revoking the Trump administration’s 2019 resumption of federal executions.
“The death penalty is a stain on the United States’ commitment to advancing justice and human rights,” the letter signed by 45 members stated. “We ask that upon confirmation you partner with Congress to enact legislation to end the federal death penalty and resentence those currently on federal death row,” the members stated.
In 2019, Attorney General William Barr—a Catholic—announced a resumption of federal executions after a nearly two-decade moratorium.
Beginning in July, a total of 13 federal death row inmates were executed by the end of the Trump administration on Jan. 20. In December and January alone, five of the inmates were executed.
The U.S. bishops’ conference condemned the executions, and in a Jan. 11 statement asked Congress and the Biden administration to stop federal executions and abolish the federal death penalty.
In one of the cases, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark sent a letter to President Trump asking for clemency for Dustin Honken. Tobin noted that, while previously Archbishop of Indianapolis, he visited Honken at Terre Haute federal prison several times a year. Honken was executed in July.
The next chair of the USCCB’s doctrine committee, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, called the death penalty part of the “throwaway culture” in a Jan. 8 online panel.
While campaigning for president, Biden promised to end the federal death penalty. As a senator, however, he sponsored a 1994 criminal justice bill that expanded the number of federal offenses eligible for the death penalty.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that President Biden was “opposed” to the federal death penalty, but offered no details on a possible stoppage of its use.
Among the members’ requests of Garland on Tuesday are that he “[w]ithdraw authorization for all pending death penalty trial cases” and stop seeking the death penalty in any federal cases.
In addition, the members are asking that “the federal Bureau of Prisons dismantle the federal death chamber at Terre Haute prison in Indiana.”
“As the Trump Administration has undertaken an appalling rush to execute a historic number of Americans this year, it is incumbent upon the Biden Administration to reverse course and work to make America a more just society,” the letter stated.
Rep. Espillat is a Dominican-American and Catholic. He introduced legislation, H.R. 97, on Jan. 4 to abolish the death penalty under federal law.
Pressley, meanwhile, introduced the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Jan. 11, to end federal use of the death penalty and provide for the re-sentencing of federal inmates currently on death row.