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Trump’s Death Penalty Zeal May Pave the Way for Its Demise

Trump’s Death Penalty Zeal May Pave the Way for Its Demise

Earlier this month, Rep. Ayanna Presley and Sen. Dick Durbin announced a bill to end the federal death penalty. With Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, it’s possible to see the path to passage, as well as a historical irony: President Donald Trump oversaw more executions than any president in decades, and in doing so he galvanized the left, allowing opponents of the death penalty to link each of these executions to systemic problems, from the all-white jury that sentenced Orlando Hall to the history of trauma and mental illness that marked the life of Lisa Montgomery. In the end, Trump’s zeal for the death penalty may end up paving the way for its demise.

President Joe Biden has promised to eliminate the death penalty, and even without Congress, he can commute the sentences of the 50 people still on federal death row. His attorney general, Merrick Garland, can bar federal prosecutors from seeking new death sentences. The two can order Bureau of Prison employees to dismantle the federal execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, and cart the lethal injection gurney off in a truck. The death penalty has never been given to more than a minuscule fraction of the thousands of people who commit murder each year, but it’s the ideological pinnacle of a punitive criminal justice system, rendering very long sentences lenient by comparison. So the political symbolism of a dismantled death chamber would be potent.

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