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GOP Contemplates Radical Expansion of Death Penalty if Trump Re-Elected

A recently unearthed directive within a GOP policy document reveals a potential escalation in the use of the federal death penalty should Donald Trump regain the presidency. Detailed on page 554 of an 887-page policy blueprint by Project 2025, the directive calls for the execution of all remaining federal death row inmates and seeks to broaden the scope of capital punishment, according to reporting by The Huffington Post.

During Trump’s final months as president, his administration executed 13 individuals, ending what had been a 17-year halt in federal executions. This marked the most executions in a single year since 1896, a stark contrast to President Joe Biden’s reinstatement of the moratorium and his administration’s ongoing review of execution policies.

The proposal not only aims to clear federal death row, which currently houses 40 individuals, but also to push for judicial changes that would expand death penalty eligibility to include severe crimes beyond homicide, such as certain cases of sexual violence against children. This push would require overturning Supreme Court precedents that currently limit the death penalty to homicide cases.

Gene Hamilton, key author of the Justice Department section of the GOP playbook and a former Trump administration official, emphasized the urgency of this agenda. However, the Supreme Court has historically resisted expansions of the death penalty, with recent rulings maintaining that such penalties for rape are unconstitutional due to the cruel and unusual punishments clause.

At the state level, similar expansions have been seen, such as Florida’s recent law under Governor Ron DeSantis allowing the death penalty for child rape cases. This law aims to challenge the standing Supreme Court decision that forbids such measures.

Despite Biden’s opposition to the death penalty, his administration has been criticized for not taking stronger action to ensure the moratorium’s permanence. The Department of Justice has paused executions but continues to contest appeals by death row inmates, leading to concerns about the administration’s commitment to ending capital punishment definitively.

Critics and advocates argue that without more decisive actions, such as commuting death sentences to life imprisonment, a future administration could easily reverse these policies. Meanwhile, legislative efforts to abolish the federal death penalty face uphill battles, with significant bipartisan support still lacking.

This GOP plan underscores the significant ideological divide on criminal justice issues and highlights the potential for major policy reversals depending on the outcome of the 2024 presidential election.