It’s about time: Moratorium on federal death penalty

In a welcome move, US attorney general Merrick Garland has imposed a moratorium on the federal death penalty.

The US attorney general has imposed a moratorium on all federal executions while the justice department reviews its policies and procedures on capital punishment. Civil rights and criminal justice advocates have been pushing for a halt following a wave of controversial executions under the Trump administration.

Citing the disproportionate impact of capital punishment on people of color, and deep controversy over the drugs used to put people to death, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, ordered a temporary pause on scheduling executions.

The death penalty is a barbaric practice and an abomination that has no place in any society that claims to be civilized. In the US, the death penalty can be imposed under state law or federal law. Homicides are usually prosecuted under state laws and these vary from state to state but under certain circumstances, people can be sentenced under federal law. Currently there are about 2,500 people on what is called death row, almost all of them under state laws with about 50 of them under federal law. It is just these 50 that are affected by the latest moratorium. Currently 27 states have the death penalty on their books and 23 have abolished it. Of the 27 still with the death penalty, in three of them governors have imposed a moratorium on carrying them out.

The federal government had imposed a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty since 2003. But in July of 2020, Trump and his attorney general Bill Barr, in a disgusting display of bloodlust, decided to go on a killing spree and execute as many people on death row as they could before they left office.

Donald Trump’s justice department resumed federal executions in July, after a 17-year hiatus. No president in more than 120 years had overseen as many federal executions. The last inmate to be executed, Dustin Higgs, was put to death at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, less than a week before Trump left office.

A total of 13 executions were carried out in that six-month period. They were perhaps motivated by the fact that then-presumptive Democratic candidate candidate Joe Biden said that he was opposed to the death penalty.

Biden has long had a history of being a political weathervane, shifting his positionwith the prevailing winds. During the height of the punitive war on crime period, he was in favor of the death penalty.

As a then-proponent of the death penalty, [Biden] helped craft 1994 laws that added 60 federal crimes for which someone could be put to death, including kidnappings during which someone dies. He later conceded the laws disproportionately affected Black people.

I am glad that he has shifted his stance.


  1. Who Cares says

    @Matt G(#1):
    I’m still waiting for someone to sue the IRS to revoke the religious exemption from the Catholic church. Something about only being able to keep it while they are not attempting to coerce the US government into a specific action.

  2. consciousness razor says

    This is just kicking the can down the road for the next administration. They wasted six months in office before they got around to pausing it temporarily in order to “review” the DOJ’s stance, when we should just abolish the practice altogether at the state and federal levels.

  3. John Morales says

    consciousness razor, it’s fair to say it’s not much and that it’s belated, but perhaps acknowledging that’s better than expediting executions and doing nothing at all is even more fair.

  4. says

    They should still keep torture as a capital crime, and enforce it on every president who allowed Gitmo to operate under their term of office. Chop ’em all.

  5. jrkrideau says

    The death penalty is a barbaric practice and an abomination that has no place in any society that claims to be civilized.

    It leaves the USA in the distinguished company of such nations as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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