Dozens of civil rights and civil liberties organisations call on Biden to immediately commute the sentences of inmates on federal death row

Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty ImagesPresident Joe Biden delivers remarks in the State Dining Room at the White House on February 5, 2021.
  • Civil rights and liberties organisations called on Biden to commute the sentences of people on death row.
  • Biden is the first president to publicly oppose the death penalty but so far has made no policy announcements.
  • Trump ramped up federal executions for the first time in 17 years at the end of his presidency.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A group of more than 80 organisations dedicated to the advancement of civil liberties and civil rights in the US called on President Joe Biden to commute the sentences of all individuals presently on death row in a letter sent Tuesday.

“Any criminal legal system truly dedicated to the pursuit of justice should recognise the humanity of all those who come into contact with it, not sanction the use of a discriminatory practice that denies individuals their rights, fails to respect their dignity, and stands in stark contrast to the fundamental values of our democratic system of governance,” the organisations said.

The letter was signed by 82 organisations and sent on behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which holds 220 member organisations. Notable organisations that signed the letter to the president include the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, and the NAACP.

Representatives for The White House did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment Tuesday. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday told reporters that she had nothing to preview on the federal death penalty.


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As the Associated Press reported Sunday, Biden is said to be mulling over a halt to federal executions. He can accomplish this by directing the Justice Department to not schedule any executions during his term, though the inmates could be executed under a future administration without further action from the president or Congress.

Biden is the first sitting US president to openly oppose the federal death penalty and called to end it during his campaign for president, though he previously supported it as a US senator.

There are currently 49 people on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre. The federal government had not carried out and federal executions for 17 years until July 2020 when the administration of former President Donald Trump had ordered the Justice Department to resume them.

More executions were held in the final six months of the Trump administration than were held during the past 56 years combined, the Associated Press previously reported. The Trump administration executed 13 individuals during his presidency. The most recent execution was carried out on January 15, just five days before Biden took office.

The former president’s executions were also linked to a rise in COVID-19 cases, as 70% of inmates on death row had contracted the virus, according to a previous analysis by the Associated Press.

“Such state-sanctioned killing is not only inhumane, but in deep conflict with many of our country’s most fundamental democratic principles and civil rights protections,” the letter Tuesday said. “A cruel and unusual punishment, the death penalty fails to comport with either the 8th or 14th Amendments and violates our obligations under international law.”

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