Last week Attorney General Alberto Gonzales proposed regulations aimed at radically limiting the ability of federal courts to review the constitutionality of death sentences imposed in state courts. These regulations were issued pursuant to a little-noticed provision added at the last minute into the 2006 bill reauthorizing the USA Patriot Act.
The regulations have provoked a heated reaction from judges, law professors, and death penalty defenders, and the issue has received coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and many other media outlets in recent days.
The Capital Punishment Project opposes the Attorney General’s unfair regulations. ACLU attorney Matt Stiegler recently told the National Law Journal: “The Department of Justice has a real opportunity here to play a meaningful role in this process and it seems not interested.”
Under the proposed regulations, for the first time the decision of whether to fast-track challenges to death sentences in particular states would be made by the Attorney General, not the federal courts. And, as the editors of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently observed, “the proposed rules don’t seem to guard against all-too-real flaws in death penalty representation.”
The ACLU joined many others in urging the Attorney General to provide adequate time for the public to review and comment on the proposed regulations. This request was granted, and the Attorney General now will receive comments through September 24.