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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 DurbinDick DurbinPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo Democrats ask FBI for plans to address domestic extremism following Capitol attack MORE (Ill.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPress: The big loser: The Republican Party Senate acquits Trump in 57-43 vote Trump lawyer irked after senators laugh at him MORE (Vt.) and Cory BookerCory BookerObama says reparations 'justified' Congressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill MORE (N.J.), all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill Wednesday. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisExclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren To unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm MORE (D-Calif.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Trump lawyers center defense around attacks on Democrats Hillicon Valley: Democratic senators unveil bill to reform Section 230 | Labor board denies Amazon request to delay local union vote | Robinhood lifts restrictions on GameStop, other stocks MORE (D-Hawaii), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Biden administration to give Congress full classified briefing on Syria strikes by next week Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence MORE (D-Va.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings MORE (D-Minn.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package On The Money: Democrats scramble to save minimum wage hike | Personal incomes rise, inflation stays low after stimulus burst MORE (I-Vt.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Little known Senate referee to play major role on Biden relief plan Bipartisan group of lawmakers proposes bill to lift rule putting major financial burden on USPS MORE (D-Hawaii).

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

Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPressley says image of Black custodial staff cleaning up Capitol after Jan. 6 riot 'haunts' her DeJoy apologizes for mail delays while defending Postal Service changes DeJoy set for grilling by House Oversight panel 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 BarrBill BarrMajority of Republicans say 2020 election was invalid: poll Biden administration withdraws from Connecticut transgender athlete case Justice Department renews investigation into George Floyd's death: report 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.