Breaking with precedent yet again, the Trump administration announced last week that it will move forward with executions in the weeks leading up to President Donald Trump’s exit from the White House, according to Slate.
The final execution is currently scheduled for just five days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The Death Penalty Information Center reports that the last time an outgoing administration did anything remotely similar was more than a century ago, in 1889. At that time Grover Cleveland, the first Democrat to be elected president after the Civil War and the only president ever to have served as an executioner (when he was the sheriff in Erie County, New York), permitted three executions to proceed in the period between his electoral defeat and Benjamin Harrison’s inauguration in March 1889.
In the time since, Slate reported, “every outgoing administration has halted the federal death penalty during the transition period.”
Trump and Attorney General William Barr are not only opting against a “merciful pause,” the report noted — “They are rushing to execute persons who might be spared by a new administration.”
Biden has indicated his administration will attempt to abolish the death penalty and offer incentives for states to follow suit.
But the Trump administration’s effort to rush through executions in the lame duck period comes as no real surprise. Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, “Trump and Barr have ignored the threat of COVID-19 and gone ahead with executions, forcing lawyers, religious advisers, and victims’ family members to risk their health if they choose to be present.”
They carried out seven executions in a three-month period last summer. If all goes according to the administration’s newly announced plan, it will make history in yet another way.
It will be the first time that the federal government ends up carrying out more executions (10) in a single year than are carried out in all the states which retain capital punishment (8). Those 10 executions would be the most carried out by the federal government since 1896, when Cleveland’s second administration put 16 people to death.
Image credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead / Public Domain