Booker, Other Senate Dems Introduce Bill to Ban the Death Penalty

August 1, 2019 Updated: August 1, 2019

Democratic senators have introduced a bill to ban the death penalty about a week after the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that federal executions would be resumed following a nearly two-decade hiatus.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who are all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced in a statement on July 31 that their proposed legislation would prevent the federal government from using capital punishment.

The bill is co-sponsored by other Democratic senators including 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Meanwhile, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced companion legislation in the House last week.

FILE – In this June 10, 2015 file photo, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., attends a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Booker announced his support for the Iran nuclear deal on Thursday, siding with President Barack Obama and bucking home-state pressures to say “no.” (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Senate bill is in response to the department’s move to resume federal capital punishment, which was ordered by Attorney General William Barr on July 25. The attorney general also directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to schedule the executions of five death-row inmates convicted murdering children and the elderly, according to the statement.

“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 said in the statement. “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.”

The DOJ’s announcement follows the conclusion of an Obama-era review of lethal injections, which effectively placed a freeze on the death penalty since the start of the review in 2014.

Durbin said in the statement that he was concerned by “the revelations we have had over the last few decades that led to dozens of exonerations of innocent prisoners who had languished for years on death row, awaiting execution for crimes they didn’t commit.”

Meanwhile, Leahy said in the statement that the death penalty is “is too final and too prone to error. It fails as a deterrent. It is racially biased. And it is beneath us as a nation.”

“Last week I again sat down with my longtime friend, Kirk Bloodsworth. Kirk was in prison for eight years, including two on death row, before DNA evidence exonerated him. The DNA testing program named in his honor has exonerated 50 more. The death penalty fails by any objective measure,” the Vermont senator said.

Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a non-profit public interest law organization, told The Epoch Times he thinks the bill will not go anywhere as a majority of Americans oppose the repeal by a wide margin. According to a recent Marist Poll (pdf), 58 percent of Americans think abolishing the death penalty is a bad idea compared to 36 percent who said it was a good idea.

The Pew Research Center also found in 2018 that 54 percent of Americans are in favor of the death penalty for people who are convicted with murder, while 39 percent opposed.

“The arguments against the death penalty are specious,” said Scheidegger, who has written over 150 case briefs in the Supreme Court. “They mention Kirk Bloodsworth. His case was reversed on the very first review, after which he was sentenced to life in prison and his case was no longer capital. He was never anywhere close to execution. He did not spend a single day in prison that he would not have spent there if Maryland had not had the death penalty at the time. There are no cases of a person actually executed being proved innocent.”

“There is good reason to believe that an enforced death penalty is a deterrent and saves innocent lives. There is no proof it is not. Black murderers are no more likely to be executed than white murderers,” he added.

Similarly, David Muhlhausen, a former senior policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation, told a Senate subcommittee in 2007 that there was little evidence to suggest minorities are unfairly treated and that capital punishment can act as a “strong deterrent effect that saves lives,” while citing a series of studies and data.

“Over the years, several studies have demonstrated a link between executions and decreases in murder rates. In fact, studies done in recent years, using sophisticated panel data methods, consistently demonstrate a strong link between executions and reduced murder incidents,” Muhlhausen said in his testimony.

Citing a 2006 study that looked at data from 1977 to 1999, Muhlhausen said the researchers found that on average each execution is associated with three fewer murders, executions deter the murder of whites and African-Americans, and shorter waits on death row are linked with increased deterrence.

Professor Ronald J. Rychlak of Mississippi School of Law told NTD News in a previous interview that although there are people who oppose the death penalty, the executive branch has a duty to follow the laws as they are written.

“I think the obligation that you look at, is the obligation of the government to society,” said Rychlak. “And part of society there, include the victims.”

NTD reporter Miguel Moreno contributed to this report.

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