Nov 21, 2019

Judge halts federal executions

San Quentin's death row gas chamber is shown before being dismantled at San Quentin State Prison on March 13, 2019 in San Quentin, California.

The gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison in California just before it was dismantled in March. Photo: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Getty Images

A U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C. temporarily blocked Trump administration plans to reinstate the death penalty by halting on Wednesday night the scheduled executions of four federal death row inmates.

Why it matters: Judge Tanya Chutkan writes in her order that Attorney General Bill Barr's plans to resume federal executions after a 16-year lapse comes into conflict with a 1994 federal law that specifies that federal executions should be conducted "in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence is imposed."

  • There is a "likelihood of success" in at least one of the legal challenges by the four men scheduled to be executed next month, Chutkan writes in the order, first reported by Politico.
"Plaintiffs have clearly shown that, absent injunctive relief, they will suffer the irreparable harm of being executed under a potentially unlawful procedure before their claims can be fully adjudicated."

Driving the news: In July, Barr asked the acting director of the agency to schedule the executions of 5 death-row inmates convicted of murder under a lethal injection protocol, starting on Dec. 9.

  • NBC News notes the order covers four of those five men; the other, a Native American, had a stay of execution last month as a federal appeals court "could consider his argument that he wasn't allowed to question jurors for potential racial bias."

The big picture: No federal executions have taken place since 2003 — an informal moratorium as the Justice Department "reviewed its lethal injection protocols," per the Washington Post.

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