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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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session MORE (Ill.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySchumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (Vt.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (N.J.), all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill Wednesday. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSix notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Harris lists out 'racist' actions by Trump in '60 minutes' interview: 'It all speaks for itself' Pence travel questioned after aides test positive MORE (D-Calif.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (D-Hawaii), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 Democrats have no case against Amy Coney Barrett — but that won't stop them MORE (D-Va.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharStart focusing on veterans' health before they enlist Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (D-Minn.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersOcasio-Cortez says Democrats must focus on winning White House for Biden All fracked up: Biden's Keystone State breakdown The Memo: Five reasons why Trump could upset the odds MORE (I-Vt.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing MORE (D-Hawaii).

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

Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyProgressive lawmakers call for United Nations probe into DHS 'human rights abuses' Ocasio-Cortez hits Trump for 'disrespect' over calling her AOC during debates Democrats unveil bill to reduce police violence against people with mental illness 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 BarrPolice accountability board concludes that Seattle police officers used excessive force during encounters with protesters Trump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money 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.