Rep. Ayanna Pressley

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks during a November 8, 2022 election night event in Boston.

(Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

26 Dems in Congress Urge DOJ to Continue Moratorium on Federal Executions

The lawmakers asserted that "there are serious concerns about arbitrariness in the application of the death penalty, the disparate impact of the death penalty on people of color, and the alarming number of exonerations of individuals previously sentenced to death."

Arguing that "the death penalty is cruel, racist, and fundamentally unjust," U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley on Tuesday led over two dozen congressional Democrats in calling on the Biden administration to continue its 18-month pause on federal executions.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland spearheaded by Pressley (D-Mass.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbn (D-Ill.), 26 Democratic members of Congress urged the Biden administration to rescind a series of Trump-era amendments that expanded execution methods, allowed the Justice Department to skip important regulatory steps while pursuing federal executions, and made state prisons and personnel available for federal executions, among other changes.

"The death penalty is archaic, barbaric, and cold-hearted; it destroys families and communities, and its abolition is long overdue."

The 2020 amendments "were adopted in the middle of an alarming rush of executions by the previous administration," the letter states. "Ending a 17-year moratorium on the federal death penalty, the prior administration executed 12 men and one woman in the space of six months—exceeding the number of individuals who had been executed under the federal death penalty over the prior seven decades."

The lawmakers contended that the amendments were "promulgated by an outgoing administration in the middle of a surge of executions" and "were clearly part of an effort to facilitate that surge, and as such the amendments as a whole are so irreparably tainted that they should not remain in place."

"Last year, we commended you for your decision to impose a moratorium on federal executions while the current review of death penalty policies and procedures is pending," the lawmakers wrote. "As your memorandum announcing the moratorium recognized, there are serious concerns about arbitrariness in the application of the death penalty, the disparate impact of the death penalty on people of color, and the alarming number of exonerations of individuals previously sentenced to death."

"These concerns justified halting the use of the death penalty during the review process. They equally support halting its use permanently," the Democrats added. "In addition to rescinding the November 27, 2020 amendments, we urge you to keep in place the current moratorium on federal executions, including withdrawing all pending death notices and authorizing no new death notices. The time for this action has come."

While President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise "work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level," his administration's Justice Department disappointed progressives by seeking to kill convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Tuesday's letter came on the same day that the state of Missouri killed Amber McLaughlin by lethal injection after Republican Gov. Mike Parson showed no mercy despite McLaughlin's lifelong history of trauma and mental health issues and the fact that the jury that convicted her of murdering and raping her ex-girlfriend Beverly Guenther in 2003 did not unanimously agree that she should be executed.

Reacting to the execution of the first openly transgender person in U.S. history, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said in a statement that "Amber McLaughlin was killed by state-sanctioned, inhumane capital punishment."

"My heart is with her family and loved ones," Bush continued. "I yearn for the day when our society acknowledges that state-sanctioned murder will never achieve justice. Gov. Parson has once again failed his mandate as governor to save lives. He has actively chosen violence over mercy and as a result, only three days into the new year, our state has killed yet another person."

"The death penalty is archaic, barbaric, and cold-hearted; it destroys families and communities, and its abolition is long overdue," she added. "There are more individuals who are set to be scheduled by the state of Missouri. We must not allow another life to be taken."

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