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Opportunities for Presidential Action
President Joe Biden, a Catholic, is the first-ever sitting U.S. president to have campaigned on an anti-death penalty platform. He can and should take decisive steps now to fulfill his promise, honor his Catholic faith, and end the broken federal death penalty system.
Opportunities for Legislative Repeal
On July 13, 2023, The Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act (H.R. 4633/S. 582) was reintroduced in both the House and the Senate. This bicameral legislation would abolish capital punishment at the federal level. This bill was first introduced in 2021.
National decision makers from both sides of the aisle need to hear that ending the federal death penalty is a top priority for Catholics and people of good will. H.R. 4633/S. 582 will need strong bipartisan support in order to pass.
Trump Administration Execution Spree
After a 17-year hiatus from federal executions, in July 2020 the Trump administration resumed the practice of capital punishment and went on to execute an unprecedented 13 people in the span of six months. The execution spree showcased the immense harm possible at the hands of an administration willing to pursue executions at any cost.
The resumption of executions was notably out of step with the progress much of the United States has made toward abolishing capital punishment. Ten states abolished the death penalty since the federal government's last executions in 2003, and public support for the practice is at a historic low.
The Federal Death Penalty: Another Broken System
The federal death penalty system is riddled with the same flaws found on the state level, including racial bias, arbitrariness, the targeting of vulnerable populations, and more. The Trump executions were especially emblematic of this structural brokenness, with examples of intellectual disability, mental illness, racial bias, opposition by victims’ family, geographic and general arbitrariness, and problematic capital trials.
History of the Federal Death Penalty
Prior to 2020, a total of 340 people had been executed in the U.S. for federal crimes. Only 37 of these were executed by the federal government. Even with the broadening of the federal death penalty with The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, only three people were executed between 1988 and 2020, showing the rare use of the federal death penalty.
Recent attempts to abolish the federal death penalty, including one in 2013, have not yet been successful.