US Human Rights Network Blog

US Human Rights Network Blog



USHRN Calls on BIden Administration to Abolish the Death Penalty

Jan 29, 2021




Quote from Higgs’ Last Letter, “Reflective Thoughts From a Cell” 

USRHN Calls on Biden Administration to Abolish the Death Penalty 

In a 6-3 ruling during the last week of the Trump presidency, the US Supreme Court vacated stays of executions for two Black men, Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs, allowing the federal government to proceed with its cruel, unlawful, and entirely unprecedented killing spree.  During his presidency, Trump executed 13 federal prisoners, more than the previous ten US presidents combined. USHRN condemns these killings as a clear violation of fundamental human rights. 

The executions took place despite public outcry over claims of cruel and unusual punishment which is prohibited under the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. Both Johnson and Higgs were executed while sick with COVID-19, overlooking concerns that the use of lethal injections on infected lungs would increase the risk of pulmonary edema, causing a drowning sensation and constituting extreme torture. 

The 13 executions stem from a profoundly flawed criminal justice system that has time and again failed to provide due process, including for the five Black men who were executed. Dustin Higgs did not kill anyone and maintained his innocence until his death. Brandon Bernard was convicted at 18 by eight white jurists (out of nine), who later advocated for his commutation. And despite evidence that Alfred Bourgeois and Cory Johnson both suffered from intellectual disabilities, the federal government fought efforts to allow the courts to “conduct clinically appropriate reviews of their claims.” Lisa Montgomery, too, was a victim of horrific abuse and longstanding mental illness. They killed her despite her inability to “rationally understand her execution” -- a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Trump and his Department of Justice, enabled by the US Supreme Court, carried out the most consecutive civilian executions by any state or the U.S. government in the 244-year history of the United States. ProPublica reports they “executed a prisoner while an appeal was still pending and left another prisoner strapped to the gurney as lawyers worked to remove a court order”. They paid private executioners in cash for middle-of-the-night killings and bought drugs from a pharmacy that failed a quality test.

During the Universal Periodic Review of the United States in November 2020, numerous UN member states condemned the United States for its use of capital punishment and overwhelmingly called for the US to abolish the death penalty. We urge the Biden-Harris administration to prioritize these UPR recommendations, take steps to reinstall a national moratorium on the death penalty, and work towards its complete abolition so this violent and reckless misuse of power cannot be repeated.