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 Durbin (Ill.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill Wednesday. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

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

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (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 Barr 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.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Ayanna Pressley Bernie Sanders Brian Schatz Capital punishment Cory Booker death penalty Dick Durbin Mazie Hirono Patrick Leahy Tim Kaine William Barr

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