William Barr's order to reinstate executions condemned by conservatives and Catholics


On Thursday, Attorney General William Barr reinstated the federal death penalty. The condemnation of the entirely unnecessary move was swift.

Attorney General William Barr just brought back the federal death penalty. Unsurprisingly, elected GOP officials — ostensibly the "pro-life" party — remain largely silent, while almost everyone else decried the move.

On Thursday, Barr directed the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to resume the federal death penalty, issuing a surreal press release where he bragged of "clearing the way" to resume capital punishment. The press release also declared that "administrations of both parties" had deployed the federal death penalty.

Strictly speaking, that's true. However, it glosses over the fact that since the Kennedy administration, only one other president has used the federal death penalty: George W. Bush. Bush was also someone who bragged of being pro-life but was famously bloodthirsty when it came to executions.

Barr's action fulfills one of Trump's demands and builds on the vicious legacy of former attorney general Jeff Sessions. Trump called for the execution of drug dealers in a speech in New Hampshire last year. Shortly after, Sessions directed federal prosecutors to ask for the death penalty in cases against drug dealers and traffickers, arguing that would help combat the opioid crisis.

Condemnation of the move was swift. Hannah Cox, head of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said that the death penalty violated "the principles conservatives hold dear: limited government, fiscal responsibility, and the protection of the sanctity of human life." She also pointed out that opposition to the death penalty is bipartisan at the state level.

Catholics also swiftly rebuked Barr. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement noting that Pope Francis called for the global abolition of the death penalty in 2015. Catholic Bishops have "echoed this call for many years," the statement said.

California's leading Democrats roundly denounced the decision as well. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris both issued statements, as did California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Though the death penalty remains legal in California, Newsom ordered a moratorium earlier this year.

"Equal justice doesn't exist in our death penalty system. The disparities for people of color are insanely high," Newsom tweeted.

Couple those disparities with the fact that it is likely at least 4 percent of those on death row are innocent and over 150 people facing the death penalty have been exonerated since 1973 and it is easy to see why opposition to this is so strong.

GOP officials are conspicuously silent on the matter. There's been no statement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The man anti-choicers call "a pro-life stalwart" doesn't have anything to say.

When the GOP was still in the majority and he led the House, current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the GOP Congress was "one of the most successful" for the "pro-life agenda." McCarthy is silent as well.

Republicans make much of saying they are the pro-life party, but this is yet another way where they show they will choose cruelty over kindness every time.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.