Eric Holder Backs Nationwide Death Penalty Moratorium

Attorney General Eric Holder expressed “personal” support for a moratorium on the death penalty as the Supreme Court is tasked with considering whether or not the lethal injection in unconstitutional. Holder stressed that his support is strictly personal, and does not reflect the views of the Obama Administration. Speaking at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Holder said:

“I think fundamental questions about the death penalty need to be asked. And among them, the Supreme Court’s determination as to whether or not lethal injection is consistent with our Constitution is one that ought to occur. From my perspective, I think a moratorium until the Supreme Court made that determination would be appropriate.”

Holder does not hide his opposition to the death penalty, but has in the past authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in high profile cases such as accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Holder also touched on the flaws that cast too much doubt on our criminal justice system:

“Our system of justice is the best in the world. It is comprised of men and women who do the best they can, get it right more often than not—substantially more right than wrong. But there’s always the possibility that mistakes will be made, mistakes in determinations made by juries, mistakes in terms of the kind of representation somebody facing a capital offense receives. And it is for that reason that I am opposed to the death penalty.”

These comments come as Pennsylvania’s new Democratic Governor Tom Wolf announced a halt on all executions due to what he calls an “error prone” justice system which fosters “inherent biases.” Wolf’s reasons differ from Holder’s. The Governor wants a task force to examine capital punishment in Pennsylvania and issue a final report on their findings. Wolf, like Holder, touched on unfair biases within the criminal justice system:

“Numerous recent studies have called into question the accuracy and fundamental fairness of Pennsylvania’s capital sentencing system. These studies suggest that inherent biases affect the makeup of death row. While data is incomplete, there are strong indications that a person is more likely to be charged with a capital offense and sentenced to death if he is poor or of a minority racial group, and particularly where the victim of the crime was Caucasian.”

In 1972, the Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia, placed a de facto moratorium on capital punishment throughout the United States because the court found that a wide range of issues that “constituted” the death penalty and the way it was administered were cruel and unusual. However, in 1976, in the case of Greg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutionality on the death penalty so long as it was not mandatory such that there is no provision for mercy based on the characteristics of the offender. The de facto moratorium imposed by the 1972 decision thus ended. It’s time we instate a permanent moratorium on the death penalty.

It’s way past time to end the barbaric practice that is the death penalty. We join the ranks of China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia in terms of executions. This is not something we should be proud of. It’s a great first step that we have an Attorney General who feels the same. This is just another reason why I’ll miss Eric Holder.