Should the US President Reinstate the Federal Death Penalty?
Jeffrey A. Rosen, JD, Former Deputy Attorney General in the Trump Administration, in a July 27, 2020 article, “The Death Penalty Can Ensure ‘Justice Is Being Done,'” available at nytimes.com, stated:
“The death penalty is a difficult issue for many Americans on moral, religious and policy grounds. But as a legal issue, it is straightforward. The United States Constitution expressly contemplates “capital” crimes, and Congress has authorized the death penalty for serious federal offenses since President George Washington signed the Crimes Act of 1790. The American people have repeatedly ratified that decision, including through the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 signed by President Bill Clinton, the federal execution of Timothy McVeigh under President George W. Bush and the decision by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department to seek the death penalty against the Boston Marathon bomber and Dylann Roof.
The recent executions reflect that consensus, as the Justice Department has an obligation to carry out the law. The decision to seek the death penalty against Mr. Lee was made by Attorney General Janet Reno (who said she personally opposed the death penalty but was bound by the law) and reaffirmed by Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.
Mr. Purkey was prosecuted during the George W. Bush administration, and his conviction and sentence were vigorously defended throughout the Obama administration. The judge who imposed the death sentence on Mr. Honken, Mark Bennett, said that while he generally opposed the death penalty, he would not lose any sleep over Mr. Honken’s execution.”July 27, 2020
Jenna Ellis Reeves, JD, attorney, in a July 30, 2019 article, “The Moral Case for the Death Penalty,” available at washingtonexaminer.com, stated:
“Justice is required from a legitimate society that acts ethically. We have a justice system for a reason: to promote good and restrain evil. A legitimate society protects and preserves individual rights, and when one person substantially and harmfully infringes on another’s rights, government has legitimate authority to designate that conduct as criminal and seek to prevent it and punish it where it does occur. Our criminal justice system is designed for this purpose. It also includes the important element of restitution or victim compensation.
Thus, when people are convicted (importantly, after being afforded complete due process) of committing wrongful, criminal acts, then society must impose justice…
Crimes range in degree and severity of harm and infringement on the victim’s rights. The most basic and foundational right is the right to life. When a person knowingly and intentionally takes the life of another human being without justification, this is the gravest of crimes.
Meaningful justice in this instance can be the imposition of the death penalty…
Our society is right to value human life. Every human being is made in the image of God and distinct from all other creation and life. Because we value human life, we also value justice for the wrongful taking of human life. Use of the death penalty is the most severe punishment government may impose and certainly we do not want to impose it on the truly innocent (those wrongfully convicted), in disparate proportionality, or out of vengeance.
But a morally upright society legitimately exercising meaningful justice will do exactly what the attorney general did: promote good and restrain evil.”July 30, 2019
Charles Stimson, JD, Acting Chief of Staff and Senior Legal Fellow of the Heritage Foundation, in a Dec. 20, 2019 article, “The Death Penalty Is Appropriate,” available at heritage.org, stated:
“[A] majority of Americans, quite reasonably, support the death penalty in appropriate cases, and believe that, despite its imperfections, it is constitutional.
The Supreme Court has held the death penalty to be constitutional. The 5th and 14th Amendments carry express approval of the death penalty: a person may not be ‘deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.’
A majority of states (29) have the death penalty on the books. Similarly, the federal government, and the military have the ultimate punishment for the most heinous crimes…
Opponents also argue that since other countries have abolished the death penalty, we should also. But Thailand, India, Japan, Singapore, and many other countries retain the death penalty.
Yes, many European countries have abolished the death penalty. But they are less democratic than we are, and its lawmakers are less accountable to the people in their countries.”Dec. 20, 2019
William Barr, JD, US Attorney General, in a July 25, 2019 press release, “Federal Government to Resume Capital Punishment after Nearly Two Decade Lapse,” available at justice.gov, stated:
“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. 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.”July 25, 2019
Donald Trump, 45th US President, in an Aug. 5, 2019 tweet stated:
“Today, I am also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the DEATH PENALTY – and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay.”Aug. 5, 2019
The Chicago Sun Times Editorial Board, in a Mar. 1, 2021 article, “Abolish the Federal Death Penalty,” available at chicago.suntimes.com, stated:
“The federal government should follow the example of Illinois and abolish the death penalty.
Many people assume the death penalty is reserved for only the most heinous crimes in which the convicted person’s guilt is beyond question. But that’s just not so.
Before Illinois did away with capital punishment 10 years ago this month, the courts overturned 21 such convictions because the evidence was flimsy to nonexistent. Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez, for example, were sentenced to die in 1985 for a murder they had nothing to do with. At a second trial, Hernandez was resentenced to 80 years in prison, but Cruz remained on death row and probably would have been executed had an election not changed the composition of the Illinois Supreme Court. Both men ultimately were freed.
Wrongful convictions happened in Illinois even though this state does a better job than some others of providing indigent defendants with decent public defenders. Some of the worst examples of miscarriages of justice in federal and state courts have been in cases in which defendants were represented by unqualified appointed lawyers.”Mar. 1, 2021
A panel of 19 United Nations experts in a Mar. 11, 2021 article, “USA: UN Experts Call for President Biden to End Death Penalty,” available at ohchr.org, stated:
“The death penalty is an abhorrent practice. It serves no deterrent value and cannot be reconciled with the right to life…
We call on President Biden to urgently grant clemency to the 48 individuals currently on death row for federal crimes, most of whom have been on death row for a decade or more.
This should be only a first step. We further urge the President, as well as members of Congress, to strongly support legislative efforts to formally abolish the death penalty at federal level.
In the meantime, President Biden should consider all other possible federal-level actions including directing the Department of Justice to stop seeking the death penalty and withdrawing notices of intent to seek the death penalty in ongoing cases.”Mar. 11, 2021
Ayanna Pressley, US Representative (D-MA), and 44 other members of Congress, in a Dec. 15, 2020 letter to then President-Elect Joe Biden, available at pressley.house.gov, stated:
“We write to urge you to end the use of the federal death penalty on your first day in office. Your historic election with record turnout represents a national mandate to make meaningful progress in reforming our unjust criminal legal system. Ending the barbaric and inhumane practice of government-sanctioned murder is a commonsense step that you can and must take to save lives. We respectfully urge you to sign an executive order on Day 1 to place an immediate moratorium on the country’s cruel use of the death penalty and signal your commitment to dismantle its use altogether…
With a stroke of your pen, you can stop all federal executions, prohibit United States Attorneys from seeking the death penalty, dismantle death row at FCC Terre Haute, and call for the resentencing of people who are currently sentenced to death. Each of these elements are critical to help prevent greater harm and further loss of life.
While eliminating the death penalty will not fix our broken criminal legal system, it is a significant step toward progress.”Dec. 15, 2020
The American Friends Service Committee in a Jan. 14, 2021 article, “It’s Time to Stop Federal Executions and Repeal the Death Penalty,” available at afsc.org, stated:
“The resumption of federal executions flies in the face of moral values, common sense, and history. For good reasons, the United States has moved steadily away from the death penalty—most recently demonstrated by New Hampshire in 2019 and Colorado 2020, which became the 21st and 22nd states, respectively, to abolish the practice…
The death penalty violates the basic tenets of all religions and the inherent worth of all human lives. It is for reasons like these that religious leaders from many traditions have spoken out for the death penalty to be abolished. More than 40 years ago, the AFSC Board issued a statement that read: ‘The death penalty restores no victim to life and only compounds the wrong committed in the first place.’
We hope you join us in calling on the U.S. to stop executing people and abolish capital punishment—and working for a world that values the lives, rights, and dignity of all people.”Jan. 14, 2021
Elliot Williams, JD, CNN legal analyst and Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Justice Department, in a Dec. 13, 2020 article, “The Death Penalty Confuses Vengeance with Justice, and It’s Time to End It,” available at cnn.com, stated:
“It is time to end the federal death penalty.
Last week, the federal government executed two men within nearly 24 hours.
What’s striking here is the timing. The deaths of Alfred Bourgeois and Brandon Bernard mark the first time the death penalty has been imposed during the lame-duck period since 1889, when Grover Cleveland was President — before the bottle cap or the diesel engine were even invented. The executions come more than a year after Attorney General William Barr directed the federal government to reinstate the death penalty for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The fact that an attorney general can decide to commence the federal death penalty after years without it, or that the United States has a century-plus-old practice of suspending it at certain points in the political calendar tells us everything that is wrong with the practice. The death penalty is unique in the law — despite its finality, it is politically fraught, inconsistently applied, subject to the basest human impulses, and a relic of the ugliest elements baked into our criminal justice system.”Dec. 13, 2020