ACLU Calls Upon Congress to Enact a Federal Moratorium on Executions

June 19, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — In the aftermath of the second federal execution in as many weeks, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to immediately pass a moratorium on further federal executions.

“The Bush Administration has now demonstrated without a reasonable doubt that it cannot be relied on to ensure that the nation’s criminal justice system is fair and unbiased,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

The federal government this morning executed Juan Raul Garza, even though a federal study revealed serious racial and geographic disparities in the application of the federal death penalty. Apart from the evidence of racial bias, Garza’s case was plagued with other legal problems including a violation of international law and an unfair jury instruction.

“If Juan Raul Garza was not Hispanic or had not been prosecuted in Texas, chances are very good he would be alive today,” King said. “Nearly every person on federal death row is a person of color who lived in one of three states – Texas, Virginia or Missouri. How can the federal government claim that the criminal justice system is fair if only certain people pay for their crimes with their lives?”

Last December, President Clinton stayed Garza’s execution pending follow-up studies on the federal death penalty. And during his confirmation hearings, Attorney General John Ashcroft had promised to continue with an independent investigation of the federal death penalty, but has not done so. In fact, based on an incomplete in-house study, Ashcroft recently issued a remarkable – and frankly unbelievable – switch in Administration policies.

The “National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2001” (S. 233 and H.R. 1038) has been introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-IL. It would impose an immediate moratorium on federal executions pending the creation of a blue-ribbon commission to conduct a two-year study on the death penalty.

In recent months, a number of prominent Americans had repeatedly called upon the Bush Administration to grant Garza a reprieve and impose a moratorium on federal executions at least until further legal studies ruled out racial bias. The group included both conservatives and liberals and included people such as John Whitehead, President of The Rutherford Institute, and R. Emmett Tyrrell, Editor of “The American Spectator,” as well as actor Mike Farrell and former U.S. Senator Paul Simon, D-IL.

A full-page advertisement placed by the ACLU, the Rutherford Institute and Amnesty International last week in The Washington Times called on the Administration to impose an immediate moratorium. “For much too long, the way in which we have administered capital punishment in America has been grossly unfair,” the signatories said. “The facts now show this to be true, and the most recent research confirms this. It is time that we reconsider how we administer punishment to our fellow human beings.”

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