Pressley, Bush Lead Colleagues in Calling on President Biden to Commute All Federal Death Row Sentences

January 22, 2021
Press Release
In their letter to President Biden: “We appreciate your vocal opposition to the death penalty and urge you to take swift, decisive action.”

Text of Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01) led 35 of their colleagues in sending a letter to President Biden, urging him to immediately commute the sentences of everyone on federal death row:

“As members of Congress, we stand ready to work with you on your commitment to rebuilding the dignity of America,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter. “We believe that rebuilding the dignity of America requires that we recommit ourselves to the tradition of due process, mercy, and judicial clemency when it comes to matters related to the criminal legal system. For this reason, we urge you to immediately commute the sentences of all those on death row.”

In 2015, the Obama administration halted federal executions by placing a moratorium on the federal death penalty. In 2019, the Trump administration abruptly announced it was reversing the moratorium and moving forward with the first execution in 17 years. On the same day, Representative Pressley introduced legislation to abolish the federal death penalty and resentence all individuals on death row—legislation that Congresswoman Bush joined her and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in reintroducing (H.R. 262) earlier this month. In their letter today, the lawmakers call on Biden to go further than the Obama administration and commute every sentence on death row, ensuring no future president could do what the Trump administration has done in resuming federal executions.

“We appreciate your vocal opposition to the death penalty and urge you to take swift, decisive action. After referring to the death penalty as ‘deeply troubling,’ President Obama halted federal executions and commuted the sentences of two federal prisoners on death row,” the lawmakers continued. “However, the Obama administration’s reticence to commute more death sentences has allowed the Trump administration to reverse course and pursue a horrifying killing spree over the final seven months of his presidency. Commuting the death sentences of those on death row and ensuring that each person is provided with an adequate and unique re-sentencing process is a crucial first step in remedying this grave injustice.”

“We can collectively save the lives of people all across America. We look forward to working with your administration to enact just and restorative policies that will meaningfully transform our criminal legal system for the better. By exercising your clemency power, you can ensure that there would be no one left on death row to kill. Given the historic nature of your administration, this would be an unprecedented - but necessary - action to reverse systemic injustices and restore America’s moral standing.”

The letter is co-signed by 35 House Democrats: Jake Auchincloss, Karen Bass, Donald S. Beyer Jr., Earl Blumenauer, Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D., Danny K. Davis, Diana DeGette, Dwight Evans, Raúl Grijalva, Alcee L. Hastings, Pramila Jayapal, Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr., Mondaire Jones, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Andy Levin, Zoe Lofgren, Alan Lowenthal, A. Donald McEachin, Marie Newman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Jan Schakowsky, Haley M. Stevens, Bennie Thompson, Rashida Tlaib, Paul D. Tonko, Ritchie Torres, David Trone, Juan Vargas, Nydia M. Velázquez, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Peter Welch, Nikema Williams.

A PDF copy of Rep. Pressley’s and Rep. Bush’s letter is available here.

Earlier this month, Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with Congresswoman Bush, introduced the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 to end the use of the death penalty by the federal government and require the re-sentencing of those previously sentenced to death row. The legislation was originally introduced by Rep. Pressley and Senator Durbin in July 2019 following the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement that it would resume the use of the death penalty.

In December 2020, Congresswoman Pressley led 41 of her House colleagues and three Representatives-Elect, including then Congresswoman-Elect Bush, on a letter calling on President-Elect Joe Biden to end the use of the federal death penalty on his first day in office.  Congresswoman Pressley continues to be a leading voice in calling for the incoming Biden Administration to permanently end this practice through executive order.

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 in the remaining days of the Trump Administration.

In August 2019, Congresswoman Pressley, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Chairman of the Subcommittee, sent letters to the Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Bureau) Hugh J. Hurwitz and Attorney General William P. Barr seeking documents and information regarding the Administration’s July 25, 2019, announcement that the Bureau would resume capital punishment. The Committee is continuing to investigate the administration’s use of this barbaric practice.

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