- Merrick Garland in his confirmation hearing expressed serious concerns about the death penalty.
- Garland on Monday cited the “disparate” impact of capital punishment on Black Americans.
- Garland said it’s “the most terrible thing” if someone is executed for a crime they didn’t commit.
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President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Judge Merrick Garland, on Monday expressed serious concerns about the death penalty in the US and the glaring racial disparities in the implementation of capital punishment.
“I have had a great pause about the death penalty. I am very concerned about the large number of exonerations that have occurred through DNA evidence and otherwise, not only in death penalty convictions, but also in other convictions. I think it’s a terrible thing that occurs when somebody is convicted of a crime that they did not commit,” Garland said during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Garland conveyed consternation about the “increasing randomness, almost arbitrariness” of the use of the death penalty.
Since 1973, 185 people have been exonerated after being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).
—USA TODAY Politics (@usatodayDC) February 22, 2021
“The data is clear that it has been enormously disparate impact on Black Americans and members of communities of color, and exonerations also that something like half of the exonerations had to do with Black men. So all of this has given me pause,” Garland added.
To Garland’s point, Black Americans make up about 13% of the total US population, but comprised 42% of the death row population in 2020.
A September 2020 DPIC report also found major historic racial disparities regarding the death penalty. The report, for example, said: “Since executions resumed in 1977, 295 African-Americans defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, while only 21 white defendants have been executed for the murder of an African-American victim.”
Biden is the first sitting US president to openly oppose capital punishment, and during his campaign pledged to end the death penalty at the federal level. The president’s position on this issue marks a drastic shift from the Trump administration, during which a record number of federal executions were carried out.
The 13th and last federal execution to occur under President Donald Trump took place just five days before Biden was inaugurated. Trump broke a 17-year hiatus in federal executions, and was the first president in 130 years to see executions carried out during a presidential lame duck period. He oversaw more executions than any president in 120 years.
More than two-thirds of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, according to Amnesty International. Biden is under mounting pressure from civil rights groups and progressives in Congress to follow their lead.
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