A group of Democratic lawmakers on Friday demanded the Trump administration halt federal executions—a practice it brought back after a 17-year hiatus—citing the threat of “irrevocable injustice.”
“While you will remain in office for a few more weeks, going forward with executions in the weeks before the new administration takes office would be a grave injustice,” the lawmakers wrote to Attorney General William Barr.
Penned by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), the letter points to July, when the administration “recklessly restarted” the state-sanctioned killings following Barr’s 2019 directive to the Bureau of Prisons.
“In less than three months, the administration executed seven people—more than the total number executed over the previous six decades,” states letter.
And, if Barr fails to heed the lawmakers’ demand, the number will likely grow. Orlando Hall is scheduled to die by lethal injection November 19. Two other federal executions are set for December, those of Brandon Bernard and horrific abuse victim Lisa Montgomery.
Reasons for a suspension in the federal executions abound, the Democrats said, pointing to the fact that it “is disproportionately imposed on Black and brown people and low income people, and at least 172 people sentenced to death have reportedly been exonerated after languishing for years on death row.” Despite such facts, “the administration has aggressively pushed forward over objections from family members of victims and despite Eighth Amendment objections to the manner of execution.”
What’s more, said the lawmakers, American voters just delivered a clear victory to President-elect Joe Biden, who pledged to work to eliminate the death penalty, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who is a co-sponsor to legislation Durbin, Leahy, and Booker introduced last year to end federal executions.
The lawmakers aren’t alone in their demand: Amnesty International USA on Thursday reiterated its call for a halt on the scheduled federal executions.
The human rights group is urging its supporters to write to Barr to pressure him “to intervene and lead the urgent review of the broken U.S. death penalty system.”
“After a hiatus of 17 years, the Trump administration resumed federal executions on 14 July 2020, putting to death seven men over 10 weeks,” Amnesty wrote. “Their cases reflected concerns on arbitrariness, racial bias, and unfairness that have long affected the U.S. death penalty system, as well as contempt for international law restrictions on the use of the death penalty. We urge the U.S. Attorney General to withdraw any pending death warrants and abandon any plans to pursue further executions.”