Booker, Durbin and Leahy introduce bill to ban death penalty

Booker, Durbin and Leahy introduce bill to ban death penalty
© Anna Moneymaker

Senate Democrats introduced a bill to ban the death penalty less than a week after the Justice Department announced it would resume federal capital punishment for the first time in nearly two decades. 

Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats dig in ahead of Supreme Court ruling on 'Dreamers' Senate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' Trump judicial nominee delayed amid GOP pushback MORE (Ill.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocrats dig in ahead of Supreme Court ruling on 'Dreamers' McConnell tees up government funding votes amid stalemate Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter MORE (Vt.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGabbard hits back at 'queen of warmongers' Clinton The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Former public school teacher: Strikes 'wake-up call' for Democratic Party MORE (N.J.), all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill Wednesday. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris reacts to supporter who got tattoo of her handwriting Even with likely Trump impeachment, Democrats face uphill climb to win presidency Harris campaign releases web video highlighting opposition to death penalty MORE (D-Calif.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group Overnight Energy: Top Interior lawyer accused of lying to Congress confirmed | Senate set to deny funding for BLM move | EPA threatens to cut California highway funds MORE (D-Hawaii), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineLawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate MORE (D-Va.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDeVos calls Democratic presidential hopeful's education plans 'crazy' Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE (D-Minn.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersOcasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment Ocasio-Cortez tweets endorsement of Sanders Ocasio-Cortez throws support to Sanders at Queens rally MORE (I-Vt.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever CNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate MORE (D-Hawaii).

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Booker, Harris, Klobuchar and Sanders are all seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOcasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings Omar endorses Sanders presidential bid MORE (D-Mass.) introduced companion legislation in the House last week. 

“Try as we might, we cannot escape the fact that the death penalty in America is disproportionately imposed on minorities and poor people,” said Durbin. “I am also struck by the revelations we have had over the last few decades that led to dozens of exonerations of innocent prisoners who had languished for years on death row, awaiting execution for crimes they didn’t commit."

“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,” added Leahy.

Several states currently bar capital punishment or have suspended the practice due to past wrongful convictions brought to light by groups such as the Innocence Project, which have secured the release of several death-row inmates. The total number of executions has declined over the last decade, in part over concerns of its racial implications, with only three federal executions having taken place since 1988. 

The Senate legislation is in direct response to the Justice Department’s announcement that it will resume the federal use of the death penalty, which specifically cited five prisoners convicted of murdering children.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFederal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe Mulvaney ties withheld Ukraine aid to political probe sought by Trump MORE said in a statement Thursday. 

“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. 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.”

The death penalty has been abolished in about 70 percent of countries, including in most democratic, industrialized nations similar to the U.S.