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Federal Government to Resume Executions

In a statement released June 15, United States Attorney General William P. Barr announced that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has begun preparations necessary to carry out death sentences on three federal prisoners in mid-July, as well as a fourth in August. The federal government has only executed three people since 1963, and nearly two decades have passed since the last federal execution took place in 2003. Barr’s statement ends with the claim that condemned inmates have “exhausted appellate and post-conviction remedies, and no legal impediments prevent their executions.”

“That’s bull,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, noting that the inmates scheduled for execution still have a pending appeal over the federal government’s new execution protocol. Their appeal asks the United States Supreme Court to issue a stay to allow further review of the protocol, after a lower court lifted an injunction against proceeding. “If an administration is concerned about the rule of law and the integrity of the judicial process,” he said, “you would not have death warrants issued while the legality of the federal execution protocol is still being determined by the courts.”

Dunham also criticized the timing of the three executions scheduled in July, pointing out that they will bracket both political parties’ national conventions. “If the administration respected the rule of law and the integrity of the court, it would not be able to carry out executions at a time in which it believes it could drive political benefit from it,” he added.

For its part, the U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will fast-track the matter in order to issue a ruling before summer recess begins in July. On Thursday, June 18, the justices issued an order instructing the federal government to file its brief opposing the inmates’ petition for review on Friday, June 19, with the inmates’ reply brief due Monday, June 22.

The federal government should not proceed with any executions, because the federal death penalty system is deeply flawed. There is widespread bipartisan opposition to the resumption of federal executions!

“The federal government’s decision to pursue executions is wrongheaded,” says Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network. “It is even more disheartening,” she added, “when one considers the widespread failures of the federal death penalty system, including issues of racial bias, arbitrariness, innocence, and more.”

Indeed, data shows that the American public is turning away from the death penalty. A national Gallup poll released in November 2019 shows that a historic 60% of respondents said life imprisonment is a better approach for punishing murder, while only 36% preferred the death penalty. In March of this year, Colorado became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty, while three other states continue under governor-ordered moratoria on executions (California in 2019, Oregon in 2011, and Pennsylvania in 2015). More importantly, of the 25 states with capital punishment still on the books not under such moratoria, eleven have not carried out any executions within the past decade, and another six have gone at least five years. Finally, the rate of death sentences imposed in America has plummeted from an all-time high of 315 in 1996, to fewer than 50 per year in each year since 2015!

As public support for the death penalty continues to wither, it’s clear that this administration’s effort to revive federal executions is dragging American justice in the wrong direction.


Add your name to these petitions calling for an immediate halt to federal executions, then share widely with friends, family, and colleagues!

Write a letter to the editor explaining why you think our federal government has no business carrying out executions, or why you think the federal death penalty is unjust, wasteful, and flawed. Feel free to reach out to NADP staff if you would like guidance!

Contact members of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation and tell them about your opposition to the federal government resuming executions! The US Capitol switchboard number is (202)224-3121, and their in-district contact information is below. If you’re going to send a letter, make sure you send it to their local offices – mail sent to their Washington offices must go through lengthy screening, and time is of the essence! Finally, if you’re not sure which House district you reside in, find out here.


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