A recent Rolling Stone report highlights the Trump administration’s infamous "killing spree" — a push to execute as many people as it could before Joe Biden, who ran on a promise to end the death penalty, took over.
Under Trump Attorney General Bill Barr’s leadership, the Justice Department rushed through 13 executions in the waning days of Donald Trump's presidency with help from the Supreme Court that Trump and the GOP helped create. Trump rejected clemency for death row prisoners and instead handed out pardons to cronies like Roger Stone, all the while attempting to overturn the 2020 election he lost to Biden.
The new report is a useful reminder of Trump and Barr’s legacy, one that could easily continue, depending on the 2024 election results. Which makes Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s capital punishment action — and inaction — all the more puzzling in light of Biden’s abolitionist campaign.
In fact, despite imposing a moratorium on conducting executions, the DOJ has been actively defending existing death sentences, and just last week secured a conviction in the death penalty case of Sayfullo Saipov for a 2017 terror attack.
Prosecutors will now presumably pursue a death sentence in the penalty phase of the Saipov case. They no doubt have the right to do so, but it’s an odd use of resources, to say the least, given Biden's supposed anti-death-penalty position. And his administration's moratorium and new procedures don't stop a future administration from pushing forward with executions.
Here’s a reminder of what Biden previously said, under a bullet point titled “Eliminate the death penalty”:
Over 160 individuals who’ve been sentenced to death in this country since 1973 have later been exonerated. Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example.
Biden recognized in his statement that “we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time.” Does he want to leave that awesome power to Trump, Ron DeSantis or any Republican candidate in 2024?