The Trump administration announced that it would continue to carry out executions in the days and weeks leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, with the last one now scheduled just five days before Biden takes office on Jan. 20, 2021. This bloodthirsty decision is another and particularly grotesque way in which President Donald Trump and his Justice Department are defying the norms and conventions for modern presidential transitions, reported Slate.
The Death Penalty Information Center reports that the last time an outgoing administration did anything remotely similar was more than a century ago, in 1889. At that time Grover Cleveland, the first Democrat to be elected president after the Civil War and the only president ever to have served as an executioner (when he was the sheriff in Erie County, New York), permitted three executions to proceed in the period between his electoral defeat and Benjamin Harrison’s inauguration in March 1889.
Since then, every outgoing administration has halted the federal death penalty during the transition period. Trump and Attorney General William Barr are not merely failing to engage in a merciful pause: They are rushing to execute persons who might be spared by a new administration.
Indeed, the Biden administration intends to try to abolish the federal death penalty and provide incentives for states to abolish it as well. A spokesperson reaffirmed this intention: “The president-elect opposes the death penalty, now and in the future, and as president will work to end its use.”
The changing nature of America’s death penalty politics is also reflected in the fact that the number of executions carried out at the state level has declined to the lowest number since 1983. This year, even the most pro–death penalty states have to some degree recognized the significant health risks associated with carrying out executions during the pandemic and stopped them. All told, seven men have been executed in five different states (Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas), with South Carolina scheduled to carry out one more before the end of the year.
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