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The United States Attorney General has ordered a pause on scheduling federal executions, giving the Justice Department time to review its death penalty polices and procedures.
Merrick Garland announced the moratorium on Thursday, about two years after the Trump administration resumed federal executions following a 17-year hiatus. During Trump’s single term, the U.S. government executed 13 people, including 52-year-old Lisa Montgomery, the first woman to be federally executed in nearly seven decades.
Garland cited concerns over the application of capital punishment, as well as its “disparate impact on people of color and the troubling number of exonerations” in death penalty cases. He emphasized the importance of treating all inmates fairly and humanely, particularly those who have capital cases.
“Those weighty concerns deserve careful study and evaluation by lawmakers,” he wrote. “In the meantime, the Department must take care to scrupulously maintain our commitment to fairness and humane treatment in the administration of existing federal laws governing capital sentences … In the last two years, the Department made a series of changes to its policies and procedures in this area. Those changes were accompanied by the first federal executions in nearly two decades. To ensure that the Department’s policies and procedures are consistent with the principles articulated in this memorandum, I am asking the Deputy Attorney General to undertake and supervise [the review.]”
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco will asses whether the use of a single-dose injection (pentobarbital) violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. In 2019, former AG Bill Bar ordered the federal prisons to begin using lethal injections on death row inmates. Every federal execution between July 2020 and January 2021 was carried out with that method.
Joe Biden, who nominated Garland, was the first U.S. president to openly oppose the death penalty, pledging to eliminate capital punishment on the federal level. The DOJ, however, recently asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.