(Washington, D.C.) Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a moratorium on federal executions Thursday, marking the first death penalty-related action by the Biden administration, which had campaigned on a promise to “eliminate” capital punishment.
“The federal death penalty is a flawed and morally bankrupt system that violates the sanctity of human life,” commented Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network. “An execution moratorium, though a discernible first step, is not enough on its own. It does nothing to redress the horrors of executions nor the excesses and inequities in the federal death penalty system. More needs to be done.”
Garland’s announcement arrives less than two years after former AG William Barr, Garland’s predecessor in the Trump administration, declared a resumption in federal executions that led to the killing of 12 men and one woman. Prior to the restart, the U.S. hadn’t seen a federal execution in 17 years, including during the eight-year “de facto moratorium” of the Obama administration.
“History has shown us how mere stopgap actions of one administration can leave the door wide open to future government killing sprees,” said Vaillancourt Murphy. “President Biden promised a permanent road closure on the federal death penalty; a moratorium is more like a temporary stop sign on the road to federal executions.”
Recognizing the need for further action, thousands of Catholics are calling on President Biden to use his executive authority to commute the sentences of those on the federal death row through a Catholic Mobilizing Network petition. Nearly 10,000 signatures have been collected to date, including those by: Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ; Most Rev. Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of Galveston-Houston; Most Rev. Ramon Bejarano, Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego; Most Rev. William Medley, Bishop of Owensboro; Most Rev. Richard Pates, Apostolic Administrator of Crookston; and Most Rev. Oscar Solis, Bishop of Salt Lake City.
“In many ways, an execution moratorium only prolongs the traumatic limbo that victims’ families, prisoners’ families, and death row prisoners endure in our broken capital punishment system,” said Vaillancourt Murphy. “President Biden should commute the sentences of those on the federal death row to break these cycles of trauma and open up the possibility for healing.”
Catholic Mobilizing Network is a national organization that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill to value life over death, to end the death penalty, to transform the U.S. criminal justice system from punitive to restorative, and to build capacity in U.S. society to engage in restorative practices.
CMN works in close collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and lives the Spirit of Unity of its sponsor, the Congregation of St. Joseph.