Death penalty: Why Barr wants executions
“Anyone who has witnessed the steady rise of Trump, with the thumbs-up-thumbs-down swagger of an omnipotent Roman emperor,” knew this day was coming, said Will Bunch in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Attorney General William Barr announced last week that the Justice Department has canceled an unofficial, 16-year-long moratorium on executing federal prisoners and will put five inmates to death in December and January. To proactively defend against charges of racial discrimination, Barr selected carefully: Three of the five inmates are white, and all murdered minors. But that doesn’t change the fact that capital punishment has been proved to be racially discriminatory and can lead to the innocent being executed. In recent decades, 156 death row inmates have been exonerated by DNA testing or other evidence. So why bring back executions now? As is so often the case with our Caligula-like president, “the cruelty is the point.” It thrills his base.
There is nothing wrong with executing “the worst of the worst,” said criminal law professor Robert Blecker in FoxNews.com. As Barr pointed out, Congress passed legislation to reinstate the federal death penalty in 1988 and it was signed by the president, yet only three people have been executed since then—and none since 2003. “We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Barr said. Some people commit crimes so awful that “as a society, we have an obligation to kill them.” Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001 for setting a bomb that killed 168 people, including children at a day-care center. Did he not deserve to die? How about “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—who placed a bomb next to a child at the finish line of the Boston Marathon?” He deserves to die, too.
Barr’s order to resume executions will probably be delayed, said Garrett Epps in TheAtlantic.com. For one, the government may not be able to obtain the pentobarbital sodium it says it will use to conduct the executions. The largest manufacturer of the drug banned its sale for capital punishment eight years ago. And federal defender offices will provide the condemned with vigorous appeals that could go on for months. A delay won’t trouble Barr, said Andrew Cohen in RollingStone.com. What he and Trump want is a death penalty debate during the 2020 election, to distract everyone from “the administration’s malfeasance and the president’s own legal troubles.” ■