Warren and other senators seek investigation into Trump administration resuming federal executions

Greg Nash

A group of Democratic senators is pushing for an investigation into the Trump administration’s decision to end a 17-year hiatus on federal executions this year.  

“This spree of executions marks a break with both modern history and decades-old practice,” the eight senators wrote in a letter to Michael Horowitz, inspector general of the Department of Justice (DOJ), on Tuesday. “Prior to the Trump Administration’s revival of federal executions, the federal government had not executed a federal prisoner since 2003 and has only executed three people in the previous 50 years. And the executions that have and are scheduled to occur after November 3, 2020 are ‘the first executions under a “lame duck” president in over 100 years,’ and come despite the fact that President-elect Joe Biden has said he intends to end the use of capital punishment by the federal government while in office.” 

Signees to the letter included Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio.). 

In July, the federal government executed Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist convicted of killing a family in the late 1990s. It was the first federal execution in more than a decade and a half.

Since then, 16 other federal prisoners have been executed. 

In Tuesday’s letter, the Democratic senators accuse President Trump’s Justice Department of intentionally ramping up the number of executions carried out by the federal government during his final weeks in office. 

“The reversal of long-standing DOJ policies and protocols for federal executions raise numerous questions about the fairness and application of these policies and protocols by the Trump Administration,” their letter stated. “What was the policy rationale for the 2019 reversal of long-standing policies and processes that prevented federal executions since 2003? Did DOJ officials conduct appropriate analyses and review when determining whether to reverse those policies and procedures?”

In a separate letter sent last week, dozens more incoming and current lawmakers urged Biden to make abolishing the death penalty a priority once he is sworn in.  

“The current administration has weaponized capital punishment with callous disregard for human life,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) wrote. 

“With a stroke of your pen, you can stop all federal executions, prohibit United States Attorneys from seeking the death penalty, dismantle death row at FCC Terre Haute, and call for the resentencing of people who are currently sentenced to death,” Pressley continued in the letter to Biden.

Biden has vowed to end the death penalty

“Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example,” the incoming president’s campaign website says under its criminal justice section. “These individuals should instead serve life sentences without probation or parole.” 

Tags Amy Klobuchar Ayanna Pressley Bernie Sanders Capital punishment Chris Van Hollen Cory Booker death penalty Dick Durbin Donald Trump Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren federal executions Joe Biden Sherrod Brown

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