Capitol Hill Democrats introduce bill to end federal death penalty

Federal death penalty felipe caparros/Shutterstock

Congressional Democrats introduced a bill to abolish the federal death penalty, calling the policy “state-sanctioned murder” and “deeply flawed.” 

Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said in a press release that the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2023 “would end the use of the death penalty by the federal government.” 

“Specifically, the bill would prohibit the imposition of the death penalty as punishment for any violation of federal law and would require the re-sentencing of those previously sentenced to death row,” the release said. 

The measure was first introduced by the pair in 2019 after the Trump administration announced the resumption of the federal death penalty. Trump’s administration carried out a total of 13 executions. 

The legislation is co-sponsored by several dozen representatives and senators and has attracted the support of over 400 organizations, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network. 

Krisanne Murphy, the executive director of the group, said in the press release that “as Catholics who believe in the inviolability of human dignity, we understand that we can’t build a culture of life under a federal government that can put people to death.”

“We support the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act, which would eradicate this flawed and morally bankrupt system, and open up the possibility for more healing forms of justice,” Murphy wrote. 

Durbin himself is Catholic, though he is also an outspoken proponent of abortion rights, writing on his website that the decision to abort an unborn child “is a deeply personal one that is best left to a pregnant [woman].” 

The Catholic Church has long been opposed to the imposition of the death penalty. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has argued that the state “has the recourse to impose the death penalty upon criminals convicted of heinous crimes if this ultimate sanction is the only available means to protect society from a grave threat to human life.” 

Capital punishment “should not be exercised when other ways are available to punish criminals and to protect society that are more respectful of human life,” the bishops wrote. 

Pope Francis has also been a consistent and outspoken critic of the death penalty, declaring that in modern times “capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the condemned’s crime may have been,” and that execution “entails cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.”

The Holy Father in 2018 approved a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that noted that in recent years, “more effective systems of detention have been developed” that “ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption,” rendering the death penalty “inadmissible.” 

The Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide,” the Catechism states in paragraph 2306.

A recent poll, meanwhile, showed a majority of Catholics in favor of the death penalty for murder convicts. 

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