(Reuters) – A group of prominent civil rights groups asked U.S. President Joe Biden to impose a moratorium on executing federal prisoners condemned to death and to commute the sentences of the men held on federal death row in a letter sent on Tuesday.
Biden, a Democrat, promised voters last year he would seek to end the federal death penalty, and took office last month as the country’s first abolitionist president.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP and other groups called the punishment “cruel, ineffective, and irreversible” in their letter.
The punishment was revived by Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, last summer after a 17-year hiatus caused in part by the increasing difficulty of obtaining drugs for lethal injections.
Trump’s administration announced a new lethal-injection protocol and executed 13 prisoners: 12 men and the only woman who had been on federal death row. Prior to that, the U.S. government had executed only three people since the 1960s. Most other countries have abolished the death penalty.
Biden, who only recently came to oppose the death penalty after being an outspoken supporter as a senator in the 1990s, has yet to discuss how we will act on his campaign pledge. Asked on Friday, Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, told reporters the president still opposed the death penalty, but that she had no information on any new policies to share.
Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are advancing bills to abolish the federal death penalty. They say it is disproportionately used against Black people and poor people, and that the risk of executing an innocent person wrongly convicted is too high.
In their letter, the civil rights groups said Biden should dismantle the Department of Justice’s execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana; announce a moratorium on executions; commute the sentences of the 49 men remaining on federal death row; and to instruct the Justice Department’s prosecutors to no longer seek the death penalty.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)