Today, the Justice Department announced that it will carry out the death penalty for the first time in nearly two decades.
Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the execution of five inmates after adopting an updated execution protocol.
After 16 years without an execution, Barr has directed the head of the Bureau of Prisons to execute “five death-row inmates convicted of murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, the most vulnerable in our society — children and the elderly” in December and January, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
In his statement, Barr said the government was moving to seek justice against the “worst criminals” and bring relief to victims and family members. At the same time, however, the government’s move is likely to reignite legal challenges to the specific protocol and reinvigorate a debate concerning the constitutionality of lethal injection.
Legal Challenges Ahead
Barr’s announcement directs the federal government to use a new protocol — similar to what several states use — that has been under review for a number of years.
The executions are slated for the end of the year. But will likely face legal challenges and delays. Legal experts question whether any execution will take place as soon as December.
“Saying that you are going to adopt a protocol is not the same thing as having a protocol properly adopted through the required administrative procedures,” said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that has been critical of how the penalty is administered. “You can’t just say it and have it happen. There is a legal process for a protocol to go into effect and there is a legal process for challenging the protocol.”
Opposition will continue once the protocol is formally proposed.
Already in the District of Columbia there has been an ongoing lawsuit involving the federal lethal injection process. There will be a range of questions about how the federal government is obtaining the drug it intends to use.
We will closely monitor whether federal prosecutors in Southwest Missouri decide to seek the death penalty.