Over 3 dozen Democrats lawmakers urge Biden to commute the sentences of all remaining federal death row inmates

Joe Biden White House
President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on January 22, 2021.

  • Thirty-seven lawmakers asked President Joe Biden to commute the sentences of all remaining federal death row inmates.
  • The effort was led by Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Cori Bush of Missouri.
  • Biden is opposed to the death penalty and campaigned on ending the practice.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Over three dozen lawmakers, led by Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Cori Bush of Missouri, sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Friday asking him to commute the sentences of all remaining federal death row inmates and “recommit to the tradition of due process, mercy, and judicial clemency when it comes to matters related to the criminal legal system.”

The letter included co-signers like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Karen Bass of California, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Jamaal Bowman of New York, where they expressed “grave concerns regarding the death penalty” and criticized the pace of executions under President Donald Trump.

“Night after night in the final days of the Trump administration, the American people bore witness to the cruel and heinous practice of executions,” they wrote. “Americans from all walks of life appealed to the moral conscience of judges and the President to save the lives of those on death row. To no avail.”

Under the Trump administration, there were 13 federal executions. Before federal executions resumed in 2020, the last federal execution was carried out in 2003.

Read more: Trump tested the Constitution and shredded traditions. Biden and the Democrats have big plans of their own about what to do next.

The signatories urged Biden “to take swift, decisive action” in commuting the sentences of death row inmates and accused Trump of enabling “carnage and unrestrained violence that must be rectified immediately.”

“This moment demands a series of meaningful actions to ensure that no President can authorize the killing of Americans through the death penalty,” they wrote.

Biden, who opposes the death penalty, instead favors inmates serving life sentences without the possibility of parole or probation.

When asked about Biden’s commitment to ending the federal death penalty during a Wednesday press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki didn’t have updates on any immediate plans of action.

“The President, as you know, has stated his opposition to the death penalty in the past,” she said. “He remains – that remains his view. I don’t have anything more for you in terms of future actions or mechanisms, though.”

In the letter, the signatories remained hopeful that they could partner with Biden in halting future executions.

“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,” they wrote. “By exercising your clemency power, you can ensure that there would be no one left on death row to kill.”

They added: “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.

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A federal judge delayed the execution of the only woman on death row, said the DOJ rescheduling it was unlawful

federal prison executions
A no trespassing sign is displayed outside the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

  • A federal judge said the Justice Department delayed the execution of Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on death row, Politico reported.
  • US District Court Judge Randolph Moss said the DOJ acted unlawfully when it rescheduled the execution of Montgomery. 
  • Montgomery was initially set to be executed on December 8, but her execution was rescheduled to January 12 after her lawyers caught COVID-19.
  • Moss vacated the January 12 date and said the DOJ couldn’t set a new date at this time. 
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A federal judge said the Justice Department acted unlawfully when it rescheduled the execution of the only woman on death row, Politico reported.

Lisa Montgomery’s executed was initially scheduled to be executed this month, but the Bureau of Prisons rescheduled the date to January 12 after her attorneys got sick with COVID-19 and asked for a delay so they could file a clemency petition, the Associated Press reported. 

US District Court Judge Randolph Moss said the Justice Department couldn’t execute Montgomery, 52, before the end of the year and then said they couldn’t order her execution while there was stay-in-place order amid the pandemic. 

“The Court, accordingly, concludes that the Director’s order setting a new execution date while the Court’s stay was in effect was ‘not in accordance with law,'” Moss wrote.

Moss vacated the January 12 date, which means President Donald Trump’s administration may have to reschedule Montgomery’s execution until after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. 

Montgomery was convicted in 2004 of strangling a woman who was eight months pregnant to death, cutting the baby out of her, and kidnapping it, CNN reported.

Biden has been a staunch opponent to the death penalty. He has pledged to abolish the federal death penalty and to work to incentivize states to abolish theirs. The Trump administration has been criticized for scheduling executions during Trump’s lame-duck period. 

Earlier this month, Brandon Bernard became the ninth execution carried out by the Federal Bureau of Prisons this year after a 17-year hiatus. Bernard also represented the first time an execution has been carried out during a presidential lame-duck period in 130 years. 

So far, the federal government under the Trump administration has executed 10 people in 2020, the most in a single year since 1896. 

There are more executions still scheduled until Biden takes office, including Dustin John Higgs, whose execution is scheduled for January 15, just five days before Biden is sworn in. Higgs would be the last of five scheduled executions that were set in Trump’s lame-duck period.

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