Advertisement

Amid scheduled executions, bills introduced to end federal use of death penalty

US Capitol dome Credit Dan Thornberg Shutterstock CNA US Capitol dome. / Dan Thornberg/Shutterstock.

As three federal executions were scheduled for this week, multiple bills have been introduced in Congress to end use of the federal death penalty.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced Jan. 11 the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021, which would end federal use of the death penalty, bar the imposition of the death penalty for violation of federal law, and mandate that federal inmates on death row be re-sentenced.
 
“Ending the federal death penalty— which is as cruel as it is ineffective in deterring crime—is a racial justice issue and must come to an end,” said Pressley.
 
“The death penalty is deeply flawed and disproportionately imposed on Black and Brown and low-income people in America,” Durbin, a Catholic, said.
 
More than 70 members of Congress sponsored or co-sponsored the legislation. The effort comes after Rep. Adriano Espillat (D-N.Y.), a Dominican-American and Catholic, introduced H.R. 97 Jan. 4, “To abolish the death penalty under Federal law.”
 
The Trump administration has resumed federal use of the death penalty after nearly a two-decade moratorium on its utilization. Former Attorney General William Barr—a Catholic—had announced the resumption of the federal use of the death penalty in 2019.
 
In 2020, 10 federal inmates were executed by the U.S., and three more on death row were scheduled to be executed this week before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.
 
However, a district court judge granted Lisa Montgomery—one of the three federal death row inmates—a stay of execution Jan. 11, “to allow the Court to conduct a hearing” regarding “Ms. Montgomery's competence to be executed.”
 
According to Montgomery’s attorneys and expert testimonies, she is suffering from mental illnesses and brain impairments.
 
The D.C. Circuit Court also granted Montgomery a stay of execution Jan. 11. The Trump administration has appealed the case to the Supreme Court; Montgomery had originally been scheduled to be executed Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. EST.
 
In December, Pressley led a letter by more than 40 House members to Biden asking him to end use of the death penalty once he takes office.
 
U.S. bishops have been outspoken about ending the death penalty, and have repeatedly implored the Trump administration to stop the federal executions. Leading bishops also asked Biden to declare a moratorium on the federal use of executions and commute federal death sentences to life imprisonment.

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, sent a letter on Monday to all members of Congress asking them to abolish the federal death penalty, calling the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act, calling the bill, “One vehicle to accomplish this.”

“I ask you to support these efforts to abolish the death penalty in our laws for good,” the bishops wrote.

Coakley and Naumann also released a joint statement, saying in part, “It is long past time to abolish the death penalty from our state and federal laws, and we call on the new Congress and President-Elect Biden to make this a priority.”

Advertisement

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, told CNA that “Catholic Mobilizing Network joins the U.S. Bishops in support of the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act and hopes to see strong Republican leadership join in this effort to end the use of the death penalty at the federal level.

“In addition to this piece of legislation, we pray that the executive branch, under the coming leadership of President-elect Biden, will take swift action against the federal death penalty at the start of the new presidential term” she said. “Just yesterday, CMN launched a petition calling on the president-elect to pursue avenues toward abolition including declaring an official moratorium on federal executions, commuting all federal death sentences, and advocating to end the death penalty in law with Congress and the states.”

Vaillancourt Murphy praised the USCCB for speaking out on ending the death penalty.

“We still have a lot of work to do to educate Catholics on the fullness and breadth of the Church’s pro-life teachings which undergird our call to 'work for [capital punishment’s] abolition worldwide' (Catholic Catechism 2267).  One common misperception is that 'pro-life' encompasses only innocent life. Yet, as Catholics, we believe that all those who have caused harm or been impacted by crime should be treated with dignity and have the opportunity for redemption and healing,” she wrote in an email.
 

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.