With three more inmates scheduled to be executed in the final week of the Trump administration — two of whom are sick with COVID-19 — legislation is being prepared that would end the federal death penalty.
This follows a growing movement not only among Democrats and progressive Christians but also among Republicans and evangelical Christians that capital punishment is immoral and ineffective.
According to data collected by Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, the number of Republican state lawmakers sponsoring death penalty repeal bills has increased sharply since 2012. And since 2016, more than 67% of the Republicans sponsoring death penalty repeal bills did so in states controlled by Republican leadership.
Americans’ support for the death penalty continues to be lower than at any point in nearly five decades.
Gallup recently reported that Americans’ support for the death penalty continues to be lower than at any point in nearly five decades.
However, there remains a core of staunch believers in capital punishment — especially among some Republicans and some evangelical Christians. That likely spurred the Trump administration’s hard line on resuming federal executions after a 17-year hiatus and even proposing the reinstitution of firing squads as a method of execution.
The new effort to ban the death penalty at the federal level is being led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). They announced Jan. 11 that 70 of their colleagues plan to join them in introducing the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021. The proposed legislation would prohibit the use of the death penalty at the federal level and require re-sentencing of those currently on death row.
“State-sanctioned murder is not justice, and the death penalty, which kills Black and brown people disproportionately, has absolutely no place in our society,” Pressley said. “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.”
Sen. Durbin added: “The death penalty is deeply flawed and disproportionately imposed on Black and brown and low-income people in America. … Our bill follows the lead of 22 states, including Illinois, by finally putting an end to this failed and unjust policy.”
Black people make up less than 13% of the nation’s population but account for more than 42% of inmates on death row.
According to data cited by the two legislators, Black people make up less than 13% of the nation’s population but account for more than 42% of inmates on death row. They also cited a nationwide study found 1 in 25 people sentenced to death are innocent.
NPR reported that the incoming Biden administration is sympathetic to calls to repeal the death penalty. Last year, Biden transition spokesman T.J. Ducklo told NPR that “the president-elect opposes the death penalty, now and in the future, and as president will work to end its use.”
Pressley told NPR she has been in “active conversation” with the Biden-Harris transition team about the issue, and that she is “very optimistic” about the chances for passage of the legislation.