U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland issued a moratorium on federal executions, while a review of the Justice Department’s policies and procedures is pending.
“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” Garland said. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”
In the last two years, the Justice Department made changes to capital case policies and procedures, and it carried out the first federal executions in nearly two decades between July 2020 and January 2021.
Justice adopted a new protocol for administering lethal injections at the federal Bureau of Prisons, using the drug pentobarbital.
Attorney General Garland’s directive orders his department to do a multi-pronged review of these recent policy changes, including:
- Assessing, among other things, the risk of pain and suffering associated with the use of pentobarbital.
- A review coordinated by the Office of Legal Policy to consider changes to Justice Department regulations made in November 2020 that expanded the permissible methods of execution beyond lethal injection, and authorized the use of state facilities and personnel in federal executions.
- A review of the Justice Manual’s capital case provisions, including the December 2020 and January 2021 changes to expedite execution of capital sentences.
No federal executions will be scheduled while the reviews are pending, he said, and there is no definite date for when they will begin again.
Garland could have been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, as he was nominated in 2016 by President Barack Obanma. His nomination was blocked by conservative senators in 2016. This year, he was nominated by President Joe Biden to be U.S. Attorney General, and Alaska’s delegation was split: Lisa Murkowski voted yes while Dan Sullivan voted no. The Senate confirmed Garland, 70-30.