President Barack Obama confirmed speculation that he may be close to opposing the death penalty in federal cases.
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In an interview with The Marshall Project editor Bill Keller published Friday, Obama said that he found the death penalty “deeply troubling,” citing the lopsided racial disparity of death penalty cases as well as several recent botched executions.
“There are certain crimes that are so beyond the pale that I understand society’s need to express its outrage,” Obama said. “So I have not traditionally been opposed to the death penalty in theory. But in practice it’s deeply troubling.”
He added, “All of this, I think, has led me to express some very significant reservations.”
Obama told Keller that he is withholding action for now, and will wait until the results of a Department of Justice review of the death penalty is released before deciding if the administration will act to curb the use of capital punishment.
As the number of Americans who oppose the death penalty increases, many experts predict that it will face a more forceful challenge in the courts as well. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has said that he would not be surprised if his court eventually rules that the death penalty is unconstitutional.
The president’s comments come as the Obama administration continues to push for broader criminal-justice reform.
The White House, along with members of Congress from both parties, views criminal-justice reform as a rare space where compromises over issues such as prison overcrowding and mass incarceration can be reached.
Earlier this week, a bipartisan criminal-justice reform bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, clearing a key hurdle that could help bring a final bill closer to passage. The legislation addresses mandatory minimum sentences, allowing some prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes to have their cases reexamined in certain circumstances.
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