Attorney General Merrick Garland made an announcement on Thursday, saying he was imposing a moratorium on federal executions while the Justice Department conducts a review of its policies and procedures.
This is a shift from the former Trump administration, which had resumed the use of the death penalty in federal cases. Under Trump, after resuming the capital punishment penalty in 2020, there were 13 executions carried out in six months, the first federal executions in the United States in two decades.
“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” Garland said in a statement. That obligation has special force in capital cases.”
Garland said the department would review the protocols put in place by former Attorney General William Barr. A federal lawsuit was filed over the protocols, including the risk of pain and suffering associated with the use of pentobarbital, the drug used for lethal injection.
President Joe Biden has said he opposes the death penalty and his team vowed that he would take action to stop its use while in office.
This is a very uncomfortable position for Biden, who in 1994 was a proponent of the death penalty and helped craft laws that added sixty federal crimes for which someone could be put to death, including kidnappings during which someone dies. He later conceded the laws disproportionately impacted Black people.