Pressley, Espaillat, Colleagues Urge AG Nominee Merrick Garland to Stop All Executions

January 26, 2021
Press Release

Text of the Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) sent a letter calling on Attorney General-nominee Judge Merrick B. Garland 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.

“State-sanctioned murder is not justice, and the death penalty, which kills Black and brown people disproportionately, has absolutely no place in our society,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “Ending the federal death penalty— which is as cruel as it is ineffective in deterring crime—is a racial justice issue. It’s time to truly move our country in the direction of justice and healing. In his new role, Attorney General-nominee Garland will have the power to use the full force of the Department of Justice to stop employing the death penalty at the Federal level and prevent any more unjust executions. Following months of organizing, mobilizing and demonstrations calling for change to our criminal legal system, this moment demands that he do exactly that.”

“The death penalty is unjust, immoral, and racist – we must abolish it,” said Congressman Espaillat. “After an unprecedent killing spree in which the previous administration executed 13 Americans, more in the last seven months than in the last seven decades, it is beyond time for the death penalty to become a part of American history, not America’s present. The death penalty unjustly targets Black and brown Americans, and is arbitrarily levied most against those who cannot afford adequate counsel. I look forward to working with the Biden administration to put an end to this cruel practice."

In the letter, the 45 Members wrote, "The death penalty is a stain on the United States’ commitment to advancing justice and human rights. After the past year of Americans taking to the streets to protest police brutality and racial injustice, we believe abolishing the death penalty would be an important marker as we work to address systemic racism in America, particularly within our criminal justice system. We ask that upon confirmation you partner with Congress to enact legislation to end the federal death penalty and resentence those currently on federal death row."

The lawmakers have pushed to abolish the federal death penalty since the 116th Congress and in their letter today, they encouraged the Biden administration to:

  • Work with Congress to enact legislation to permanently abolish the federal death penalty and resentence those currently on federal death row;
  • Rescind the July 25, 2019, addendum to the Federal Execution Protocol and withdraw any pending death warrants;
  • Withdraw authorization for all pending death penalty trial cases and cease to seek any death sentence;
  • Direct the Bureau of Prisons to dismantle the federal death chamber at FCC Terre Haute prison;
  • Rescind DOJ Rule 85 FR 75846 “Manner of Federal Executions” that took effect December 24, 2020. The rule would give the Attorney General unfettered ability to deviate from the regulations at will without subjecting any such changes to further review, and grant unlimited power to redelegate authority and reassign duties among various DOJ components in direct contravention of 18 USC 3596(a). The rule would also eliminate the requirement that any execution be preceded by a valid judgment and order from the federal sentencing court, thereby eliminating a federal court’s authority to control its own judgments and violating the separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches.

The full text of the letter is available here.

Congresswoman Pressley is the lead sponsor of H.R. 262, 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.

Last week, 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.

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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