ACLU Finds Ashcroft Death Penalty Position Switch Remarkable and Unbelievable

June 6, 2001 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON – In a remarkable — and frankly unbelievable — switch of positions, the Justice Department today said that there was no significant racial and geographic disparity in the imposition of the death penalty by the federal government.

“It appears that Mr. Ashcroft has decided to turn his bailiwick into the Department of Injustice,” said Rachel King, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The Administration is obviously playing politics with people’s lives.”

In a preliminary report issued in September of last year, the Justice Department found very significant disparities that led President Clinton, a death penalty supporter, to impose a six-month delay in what was scheduled to be the first federal execution in almost 40 years. During that six-month period, Clinton ordered the Justice Department to finish its preliminary report.

The preliminary report had found that in 75 percent of the cases in which a federal prosecutor sought the death penalty in the last five years, the defendant had been a member of a minority group, and that in more than half of the cases, the defendant was an African American.

But the report that came out today from the new Bush Administration Justice Department found no significant disparity.

“Whether the government chooses to face established facts or not, criminal justice in this country is not color-blind,” said King. “Until the Administration understands and accepts that reality, entire groups of American citizens will have serious cause to question the integrity of the criminal justice system in the United States.”

The preliminary report found that 85 percent — or 17 out of 20 — of those on federal death row are people of color. And in 80 percent — or 548 out of 684 — of the cases submitted to the Attorney General as a possible federal death penalty case, the defendant was not white.

In addition to concerns about race and ethnic bias, the survey revealed geographic disparities in the federal capital prosecutions sought. For example, most death penalty prosecutions were pursued by only a handful of federal prosecutors – 42 percent or 287 out of 682 of the federal cases submitted to the Attorney General for review came from just 5 of the 94 federal districts.

“This Administration is seeking political cover for its desire to execute Juan Garza,” King said. “Worse, they’re willing to get it at the expense of the truth. It’s that simple.”

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Smart Justice

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Smart Justice

Smart Justice issue image

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.