March 2, 2021 20:48

Critics Say Federal Executions Should Halt During Transition

After nearly two decades without federal executions, the Justice Department reversed course by carrying out three death sentences in four days this summer. DOJ is planning a similarly busy schedule of executions during the Trump administration’s final days, before a president who staunchly backs capital punishment is succeeded by one who opposes it, the Washington Post reports. The Justice Department’s push to carry out executions during the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration — including three during the week before he takes office — has drawn sharp condemnation from critics. “It’s just unconscionable to move forward with executions at this point, in this situation,” said Shawn Nolan, a lawyer for two inmates facing execution. “Joe Biden ran on a platform of not moving forward with executions. And they shouldn’t move forward with these executions during this transition period.”

A Justice Department official disputed that reasoning, asserting that Attorney General William Barr had been routinely scheduling executions, as the law dictated he should do, since concluding an Obama administration-era review of the federal death penalty last year. The official said both Democratic and Republican attorneys general had sought the death penalty , and “there were many people languishing on death row.” The official, speaking anonymously, said, “It’s been reviewed by multiple courts in each case. And this has nothing to do with who’s coming into power. It shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat thing. It’s the law.” While some executions planned in states were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, DOJ has continued to administer lethal injections. So far this year, the Trump administration has carried out eight federal executions, more than twice the entire number conducted in the previous three decades.

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