Supreme Court Clears Way for Trump Administration’s Plans to Resume Federal Executions

Supreme Court Clears Way for Trump Administration’s Plans to Resume Federal Executions
The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on May 4, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Janita Kan

The Supreme Court on June 29 declined a challenge by several death row inmates asking justices to clarify the law on how the government carries out federal executions. The decision paves way for the Trump administration to push forward with its plans to resume federal executions after a nearly 20-year pause.

The four inmates who were convicted of murdering children argued that their scheduled lethal injections would violate the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act, which states that the method of execution should be determined by the state where a capital crime is committed.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was initially blocked from carrying out the executions after a district court granted a preliminary injunction, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled early April that the Trump administration’s plan to resume executions of federal death row prisoners by lethal injection is lawful, tossing out the lower court’s decision.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor indicated in the June 29 order that they would have taken up the appeal.
Earlier this month, Attorney General William Barr ordered the BOP to schedule the executions of the four inmates—Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Keith Dwayne Nelson. Their executions have been scheduled for dates in July and August.

In an emailed statement, Ruth Friedman, director of Federal Capital Habeas and a lawyer for Daniel Lee, criticized the top court’s decision to not take up the case.

“The federal death penalty is arbitrary, racially-biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science. Problems unique to the federal death penalty include over-federalization of traditionally state crimes and restricted judicial review,” she said in the June 29 statement.

“Given the unfairness built into the federal death penalty system and the many unanswered questions about both the cases of the men scheduled to die and the government’s new execution protocol, there must be appropriate court review before the government can proceed with any execution.”

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.

Executions on the federal level have been rare, and the government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988—most recently in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young female soldier.

Barr announced in July 2019 that they were resuming federal executions and that they were replacing a three-drug procedure that had been used in federal executions with a single drug, pentobarbital.

Isabel Van Brugen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.