by Rana Irby
The fight against the death penalty in the United States has resurged since the resuming of federal executions in the last days of the Trump administration. With a new administration now in power that has appeared to be amenable to ending the practice, the effort to end capital punishment continues, especially ramping up on the federal policy front. Namely, it comes in the form of the reintroduction of the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act.
H.R. 262, also known as the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act, was reintroduced to Congress in January 2021 by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Senator Richard Durbin. The bill was initially introduced in July 2019. It states that “no person may be sentenced to death or put to death on or after the date of enactment of this Act for any violation of Federal law.” In addition, it requires the resentencing of federal death convictions. As of March 4th, it has been referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Seventy lawmakers and 242 organizations supported the bill.
The final months of the Trump administration saw the return of federal capital punishment after a 17-year hiatus; no federal execution had been carried out since 2003. In 2020 and 2021, the Trump administration executed 10 people. President Biden called for an end to the death penalty as part of his campaign platform on criminal justice. However, no action has been taken yet by the administration as its first 100 days have come and gone. With this in mind, H.R. 262 was introduced to keep the endeavor to stop capital punishment alive on the policy front. As Congresswoman Pressley in quoted in Christina Carrega’s CNN article, “...notwithstanding those things that can be done by executive action which would save lives, it really is essential that Congress pass legislation so that it fully ends the death penalty, codified it into law and prevent a future president for reinstating it down the line (sic)." These lives include 49 men who are currently on federal death row. Hopefully, the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act will be a step in the effort to rethink justice for them.