Should the federal government be in the business of executing people?
The death penalty was last used by the federal government back in 2003, when Louis Jones was put to death for raping and then killing a female soldier in the Army.
But in July, Attorney General William Barr announced that the federal government will once again resume carrying out the federal death penalty. He cited five specific individuals who had been found guilty of the most heinous crimes, including rape, torture, and murder — and who, under this new policy, will now be executed in December and January.
What the bill does
Two House bills would disallow the federal government from carrying out the death penalty.
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the death penalty is unethical, and that the government should not be deciding which of its citizens live or die.
“The same racist rhetoric coming from the occupant of the White House — who called for the execution of the Exonerated 5 — is what led to this racist, vile policy,” Rep. Pressley said in a press release, referencing a group wrongly accused of rape in the 1980s but later cleared through DNA evidence. “It was wrong then and it’s wrong now and I am proud to introduce a bill that completely abolishes the use of capital punishment as a punitive measure. The cruelty is the point — this is by design.”
“The death penalty is an immoral practice and it should be abolished,” Rep. Espaillat said in a separate press release. “I strongly believe that decisions of whether a person should live or not are not to be made by a government, let alone one such as ours that is founded on the inalienable rights of individuals.
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the truly worst crimes deserve the truly worst punishment — including the single worst punishment of all.
“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the president,” Attorney General Barr said in a press release.
“Under administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding,” Barr continued. “The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”
Odds of passage
Rep. Pressley’s bill has slightly more cosponsors of the two, with 13 cosponsors: 12 Democrats and one independent. Rep. Espaillat’s bill has 11 cosponsors, all Democrats. Both await potential votes in the House Judiciary Committee, though they would face low odds in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Even if one version were to somehow be enacted into law, it arguably wouldn’t solve the main problem for death penalty opponents: the states. States have still been carrying out the death penalty perpetually, despite the federal government’s last use of the practice in 2003.
So far in 2019, 10 people have been given the death penalty in five states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas. In 2018, 25 people were given the death penalty in eight states.