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Trump administration to bring back federal death penalty after 16-year lapse

Bill Barr
Attorney General Bill Barr. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Attorney General Bill Barr has instructed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reinstate the death penalty, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President. ... The Justice Department upholds the rule of law—and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”
— Attorney General Bill Barr

Why it matters: No federal executions have taken place since 2003 — an informal moratorium as the Justice Department "reviewed its lethal injection protocols," per the Washington Post. In addition to directing the BOP to resume capital punishment, Barr has asked the acting director of the agency to schedule the executions of 5 death-row inmates convicted of murder, beginning on Dec. 9.

The big picture: The updated federal execution protocol ordered by Barr would closely mirror a single-drug procedure used in several states, including currently Georgia, Missouri and Texas. A number of drugmakers that used to supply the 3-drug cocktail used for execution purposes stopped selling them in protest, making it more difficult for states to enforce lethal injections.

  • Capital punishment across the country is largely on the decline, with New Hampshire becoming the 21st to eliminate the death penalty in May. According to a Gallup tracker, 56% of Americans are in favor of the death penalty, down from a peak of 80% in 1994.

Go deeper: Where the death penalty survives around the world