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Over 40 lawmakers sign letter urging Merrick Garland to prioritize abolishing death penalty

Over 40 lawmakers sign letter urging Merrick Garland to prioritize abolishing death penalty
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More than 40 lawmakers signed onto a letter this week urging Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandGarland sparks anger with willingness to side with Trump Garland vows fight against voting limits that violate law House Democrats push Garland for immigration court reforms MORE, President BidenJoe BidenEx-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' News leaders deal with the post-Trump era MORE's nominee for attorney general, to make abolishing the death penalty a priority if he is confirmed.

Rep. Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralThe Memo: Harris, Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic divide on immigration House Democrats introduce bill to close existing gun loopholes and prevent mass shootings Hispanic Caucus energized by first Biden meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) said he and Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyProgressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias House candidate in Chicago says gun violence prompted her to run Labor secretary faces questions from Democrats in police chief controversy MORE (D-Mass.), who introduced legislation last year seeking to abolish the federal death penalty after the Trump administration announced it would resume the form of punishment, led 45 of their colleagues in the letter Wednesday.

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The letter calls for Garland to immediately begin working with Congress to “enact legislation and resentence those currently on federal death row” once he is confirmed to office. 

“There is much work to be done to bring integrity to the Justice Department, and we look forward to working with the Biden Administration to address systemic racism within our criminal legal system,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“We strongly believe among the first actions of the new administration on this front ought to be fulfilling President Biden’s commitment to working with Congress to end the federal death penalty and incentivizing states to end capital punishment across the country,” they continued.

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The federal government began carrying out executions last summer for the first time in more than a decade. The move came a year after the Trump administration announced it would be resuming the form of punishment.

“Under administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals. ... 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,” then-Attorney General William BarrBill BarrEx-DOJ official Rosenstein says he was not aware of subpoena targeting Democrats: report Garland sparks anger with willingness to side with Trump Trump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says MORE said in a statement at the time

The move was met with fierce criticism from criminal justice advocates and a number of Democrats.

Pressley, one of many Democrats who condemned the move by the previous administration to resume federal executions, announced plans to introduce a bill to end the death penalty within hours of the Department of Justice’s announcement of its decision to reinstate the death penalty.

“The death penalty has no place in a just society,” Pressley said on social media at the time, decrying the policy as “racist” and “vile.”

In their letter to Garland this week, Pressley and other lawmakers noted the death penalty had a “disproportionate imposition on Black and brown Americans,” pointing to data showing Black Americans have been overrepresented in executions.

“During the modern death penalty era, beginning with the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Gregg v. Georgia, roughly 34 percent of people executed in the United States have been Black, despite Black Americans making up only 13.4 percent of the national population,” they wrote.

They also pointed to what they describe as the “particularly alarming” rate of innocence when it comes to such cases, noting a 2014 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they said shows “at least 1 in 25 individuals sentenced to death are innocent.”

The lawmakers went on to call the form of punishment a “stain on the United States’ commitment to advancing justice and human rights” and said, considering last year’s widespread protests against police brutality and racism prompted by the police killing of George Floyd, that “abolishing the death penalty would be an important marker as we work to address systemic racism in America, particularly within our criminal justice system.”

In addition to working with Congress to end the federal death penalty and resentence inmates on federal death row, the lawmakers called on Garland to also “withdraw authorization for all pending death penalty trial cases and cease to seek any death sentence” as well as withdraw “any pending death warrants,” among other actions.

Biden has thrown support behind abolishing the death penalty, which he also outlined­ in his Plan for Black America. Since being in sworn last week, he has signed multiple orders aimed at advancing racial equity in the nation.

In order to officially abolish the form of federal punishment in the country, Biden will need the help of Congress to pass legislation, but it is within the president’s power to issue a moratorium on federal executions with an executive order.

In their letter to Garland, the lawmakers said “it is incumbent upon the Biden Administration to reverse course and work to make America a more just society.” 

Among those listed as signees on the letter include Reps. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanPresident Biden can prevent over 4,000 people from being sent back to prison Lawmakers roll out legislation to defend pipelines against cyber threats Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package MORE (D-N.J.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibProgressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias Omar: I wasn't equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries Omar feuds with Jewish Democrats MORE (D-Mich.), Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeHundreds gather at historic Tulsa church to dedicate prayer wall on anniversary of massacre Overnight Defense: Pentagon pitches 5B budget | Kamala Harris addresses US Naval Academy graduates Pentagon pitches 5B budget with cuts to older weapons MORE (D-Calif.), Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalNew Alzheimer's drug sparks backlash over FDA, pricing Hillicon Valley: House targets tech giants with antitrust bills | Oversight chair presses JBS over payment to hackers | Trump spokesman to join tech company | YouTube suspends GOP senator Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over MORE (D-Wash.), Bobby RushBobby Lee RushGranholm expresses openness to pipeline cyber standards after Colonial attack Feds eye more oversight of pipelines after Colonial attack Shining a light on COINTELPRO's dangerous legacy MORE (D-Ill.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaFresh hurdles push timeline on getting China bill to Biden New report reignites push for wealth tax Senate passes long-delayed China bill MORE (D-Calif.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.).