SCOTUS is blocking federal executions and it's the right thing to do

SCOTUS is blocking federal executions and it's the right thing to do
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Earlier this year — after more than 16 years — the Trump administration announced its intent to resume executing death row prisoners. The last time the federal government carried out the death penalty was in 2003, the long hiatus due to continued court battles over the drugs used to carry out the executions. 

Two Appeals Courts, including the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, have ruled against the administration in their rush to begin executions this month. It said that issues with the lethal injection protocol are still unresolved. However, the Trump administration is so intent on quickly resuming executions that it asked the Supreme Court to weigh in.

Over the weekend, the Supreme Court declined to overturn to lower court rulings saying they expect the issue to be resolved at the appeals court level. The Trump administration said they were disappointed in the ruling and would continue to the legal battle.


The short list of prisoners who would likely be the first executed include those convicted of heinous and grisly crimes. For example, Daniel Lewis Lee was scheduled to be executed on Dec. 9. Lee and his co-defendant were convicted of murdering a couple and their 8-year-old daughter. 

Yet, when one delves into the testimony of the case, we find that it was Lee’s co-defendant, Chevie Kehoe, who killed the young girl after Lee refused to do so. Kehoe was the “ringleader” of this crime, according to Judge G. Thomas Eisele. However, Kehoe received a sentence of life in prison while the less culpable Lee was sentenced to death.  

The miscarriage of equal justice in this case has prompted the presiding judge, the victims’ family members and the U.S. attorney, who investigated and prosecuted the case, to plea for Lee’s clemency. 

This case highlights why death penalty opposition has grown steadily over the past 20 years around the world and here at home. 

Numerous states considered death penalty repeals this year. Recently, New Hampshire became the 21st state to abolish the death penalty. These efforts in the statehouse are increasingly bipartisan. 


Just last month, well-known conservatives including former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-Texas), former Gov. George Ryan (R-Ill.), and Richard Viguerie signed a statement expressing their opposition

Calling the death penalty “a costly and ineffective government program,” the statement says “that the death penalty does not work and can’t be made to work, not in spite of our conservative principles, but because of them.”  

Once a defender of the death penalty, I changed my mind back in 2010 as New Mexico’s governor when I signed into law our state’s repeal. When I considered the evidence, I concluded that the death penalty was not an effective deterrent to violent crime and the data in this regard is clear.  

Rhere’s the growing body of research showing the grave mistakes made by judges, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and even juries that has led to increasing exonerations. Most people sentenced to death are poor and minority defendants who have not been flanked by the best legal teams and expert witnesses available to white collar criminals.

Earlier this year, members of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty met with Pope Francis to discuss the worldwide movement to end this heinous practice. Pope FrancisPope Francis'Spider-Man' meets the pope Communion vote puts spotlight on Hispanic Catholics US Catholic bishops join the culture wars MORE deserves praise for his global leadership to help end use of the death penalty. In August 2018, building on the work of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis ordered a change in the Catholic Church’s Catechism to state clear opposition to capital punishment

“It is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor,” Pope Francis wrote.

The challenge posed to us as Americans — not as Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, but as human beings — is to keep front and center in our minds what this decision and others mean to each one of us as the 2020 election approaches. 

Bill Richardson is a former Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. Energy Secretary, and Governor for the State of New Mexico. He founded the Richardson Center for Global Engagement in 2011 to promote global peace and dialogue by identifying and working on areas of opportunity for engagement and citizen diplomacy with countries and communities not usually open to more formal diplomatic channels.