Nov 21, 2019

Judge halts federal executions

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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Kamala Harris on the issues, in under 500 words

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Editor's Note: Harris dropped out of the race on December 3rd, 2019. Below is our original article on her candidacy.

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Eric Holder: Bill Barr "is unfit to lead the Justice Department"

Former Attorney General Eric Holder and current Attorney General Bill Barr. Photo: Paul Marotta/Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former Attorney General Eric Holder said in an op-ed for the Washington Post that his successor Bill Barr is "unfit to lead the Justice Department" due to his "nakedly partisan" actions.

Why it matters: Holder argues Barr has diminished his professional reputation in the legal world by working for President Trump because Barr puts the president's interests above the nation's.

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Barr: Jeffrey Epstein's death was a "perfect storm of screw-ups"

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Attorney General Bill Bar concluded Jeffrey Epstein's death was the result of "a perfect storm of screw-ups" during an interview with the AP.

The big picture: The death of the convicted sex offender in one of the most secure jails in America has sparked criminal charges against the guards monitoring him, controversy and even conspiracy theories, given Epstein's links to powerful people around the globe. Barr acknowledged as much in the interview, saying that he "can understand people who immediately — whose minds went to sort of the worst-case scenario."

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