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August 9, 2021

Pressley, Espaillat, Colleagues Urge Department of Justice to Stop Seeking Death Penalty

Text of Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), along with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10) and Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01), sent a letter to Department of Justice Attorney General Judge Merrick B. Garland urging him to halt all federal participation in the capital punishment system and prohibit Department attorneys from seeking the death penalty.

“State-sanctioned murder is not justice, and the death penalty has no place in any society,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “I applaud the critical steps the DOJ has taken, responsive to the demands of the coalition working to end the federal death penalty. Now the Biden Administration must strengthen its moratorium on executions by formally directing federal prosecutors to no longer seek the death penalty, commuting the sentences of those on death row, and dismantling the death row facility at Terre Haute. The momentum behind abolishing the death penalty is growing and Attorney General Garland must act.”

“It’s simple: the death penalty is unjust, immoral, and racist, and we have a moral obligation to abolish it,” said Congressman Espaillat. “After Trump’s unprecedent killing spree in which he executed 13 Americans, more federal executions than in the last seven decades, it is beyond time for the death penalty to become a part of American history, not remain in America’s present. We see time and again how capital punishment unjustly targets Black and brown Americans, as well as it being arbitrarily levied most against those who cannot afford adequate counsel – this is not justice. Attorney General Garland took action on this injustice by instituting a moratorium on federal executions, but failed to maintain logical consistency by not directing federal prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty. The Department of Justice should immediately halt capital litigation and stop sentencing people to die.”

“The rush of federal executions led by former Attorney General Barr last year was arbitrary and unprecedented,” said Chairman Nadler. “We have seen how death sentences have been unjustly imposed, racially biased, and executions cruelly administered. While I am grateful that Attorney General Garland has halted federal executions, we ask that he take additional steps by preventing federal prosecutors from seeking death sentences.”

“We must work to build a criminal-legal system that is deeply rooted in a love for humanity, which begins with ending the federal death penalty in our country,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush. “The death penalty is an inhumane punishment that disproportionately violates the human rights of Black, brown, indigenous, and other marginalized people. I’m proud to join my colleagues Reps. Espaillat and Pressley in continuing to urge this administration to end the death penalty.”

In the letter, the members stated, “Capital punishment is a deeply flawed and inhumane practice that the Department of Justice can and must discontinue. Its known deficiencies, “including arbitrariness in its application, disparate impact on people of color, and the troubling number of exonerations in capital and other serious cases,” are thoroughly documented.  Despite these realities, the death penalty continues to be imposed in an arbitrary and capricious manner […] While the United States Congress considers legislation to abolish the death penalty, which has an unprecedented and growing level of support, the Department of Justice still has a moral obligation to take immediate, decisive action. The Biden-Harris Administration was elected on the promise of abolishing the federal death penalty, and we are committed to using every legislative tool to help fulfill it.”

Reps. Pressley and Espaillat have been pushing to abolish the death penalty since the 116th Congress.

Congresswoman Pressley is the lead sponsor of H.R. 262, the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021, legislation to prohibit the use of the death penalty at the federal level and require re-sentencing of those currently on death row. The legislation is sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The pair first introduced  the bill in July 2019, on the same day the Trump Administration announced it would resume executions.

In January 2021, Congresswoman Pressley and Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-MO) led more than 35 of their House colleagues in sending a letter to President Biden calling on him to commute the sentences of every person on federal death row.

Later that month, Congresswoman Pressley and Reps. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) and Robin Kelly (IL-02) wrote to then-Attorney General-nominee Judge Merrick B. Garland urging him to prioritize President Biden’s commitment to working with Congress to end the federal death penalty and incentivizing states to end capital punishment across the country.

In December 2020, Congresswoman Pressley led 41 of her House colleagues and three Representatives-Elect on a letter calling on President-Elect Joe Biden to end the use of the federal death penalty on his first day in office. 

In November 2020, Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Durbin, along with Senators Patrick Leahy and Cory Booker, wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr calling for a halt on all scheduled federal executions during the presidential transition period.



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