Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a halt to all federal executions on Thursday to allow for a review of the practice, which has “no place in the 21st century,” according to the U.N. secretary-general.
“Serious concerns have been raised about the continued use of the death penalty across the country, including arbitrariness in its application, disparate impact on people of color, and the troubling number of exonerations in capital and other serious cases,” Garland wrote. “Those weighty concerns deserve careful study and evaluation by lawmakers.”
The pause comes after the Trump administration revived the federal death penalty at the end of his presidency after a 17-year hiatus on executions. In 2003, legal challenges regarding the three-drug cocktail for lethal injections resulted in court rulings that put the practice to a halt. But in 2019, then-Attorney General William Barr reinstated the punishment using just one drug, pentobarbital. In the last six months of the Trump administration, the federal government executed 13 people, including three inmates in the week before the inauguration of Joe Biden. Garland’s review will also reconsider Barr’s post-election order potentially allowing the use of firing squads in executions.
Forty-six men, including Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Dylann Roof, currently sit on federal death row, joined by some 2,500 men and women slated for execution on the state level; Garland’s suspension does not affect those who are scheduled to be killed by the 27 states, which still engage in capital punishment. The last person to be executed in the United States was in Texas, where John William Hummel was executed by lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville on June 30.