House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions

House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions
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The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties announced Wednesday it is opening an investigation into the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) July decision to resume capital punishment.

The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDemocrats bicker over strategy on impeachment Overnight Defense: Trump says he has 'many options' on Iran | Hostage negotiator chosen for national security adviser | Senate Dems block funding bill | Documents show Pentagon spent at least 4K at Trump's Scotland resort Top Oversight Democrat demands immigration brass testify MORE (D-Md.), and panel member Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyDemocrats blast HUD for removing LGBT language from grant competition Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Omar asks Twitter what it's doing in response to Trump spreading 'lies that put my life at risk' MORE (D-Mass.), wrote to the DOJ and Federal Bureau of Prisons requesting information and documents involving the decision. And the lawmakers  expressed concerns over the adoption of a new regulation that will require federal authorities to use a single drug, pentobarbital, in federal executions.


The drug is used by several states for lethal injections.

“We are extremely concerned about the types of facilities from which the Bureau will obtain its pentobarbital, whether the Bureau will be able to guarantee that its intended method of execution is as painless as possible, and whether the Bureau will be subject to rigorous protocols to prevent the problems that have occurred at the state level,” Raskin and Pressley wrote.

Raskin and Pressley requested copies of documents or studies the department considered in determining the new policy and copies of its execution protocol before and after the announcement. They also asked the agency to answer 11 questions, including which individuals and parties outside the agency were consulted in making the decision and what procedure the DOJ will follow to obtain pentobarbital.

They requested the information no later than Aug. 27.

The two Democrats expressed concerns over the drug, citing a report that Texas procured its pentobarbital from a pharmacy whose state license was on probation for providing dangerous drug mixtures to children and that five people executed in the state by pentobarbital said during their executions that they felt as if they were burning.

Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinA national interest rate cap would harm consumers in the name of consumers Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts GOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi MORE (Ill.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Senate panel approves three spending bills MORE (Vt.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum Two former Congressional Black Caucus chairmen back Biden Strippers, 'Hustlers' and the Democratic debates MORE (N.J.), all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill to ban the death penalty in July, shortly after Pressley introduced companion legislation in the House.

“The death penalty fails by any objective measure. It is too final and too prone to error. It fails as a deterrent. It is racially biased. And it is beneath us as a nation,” said Leahy.

Several states currently bar capital punishment or have suspended the practice after past wrongful convictions were brought to light and over concerns that death sentences are disproportionately imposed on minorities. The total number of executions has declined over the last decade, in part over concerns about the racial impact of the death penalty. Only three federal executions having taken place since 1988.

The Justice Department has scheduled five executions for December 2019 and January 2020 for prisoners convicted of murdering children. 

“Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding,” Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocrats to seek ways to compel release of Trump whistleblower complaint Democrats press Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt The Hill's 12:30 Report: Questions swirl around Trump whistleblower complaint MORE said when announcing the new policy.

"The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system."