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Ayanna Pressley files bill that would abolish death penalty

Representative Ayanna Pressley’s bill would abolish the death penalty in the federal justice system.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Representative Ayanna Pressley filed a bill Thursday that aims to abolish capital punishment at the federal level.

The Boston Democrat announced the bill in response to the federal government’s decision to resume executing death row inmates, also announced Thursday, ending an informal moratorium on the practice that has been in place since 2010.

Pressley condemned the policy as cruel “by design” in announcing her proposal, which would also require death row inmates to be resentenced.

“The death penalty has no place in a just society,” Pressley said in a tweet on Thursday.

In proposing the bill, Pressley took an aggressive stand against President Trump’s longstanding support for the death penalty, which she described as having a disparate impact on people of color.


“The same racist rhetoric coming from the occupant of the White House — who called for the execution of the Exonerated 5, is what led to this racist, vile policy,” Pressley said in an e-mailed statement.

President Trump had bought newspaper advertisements in 1989 calling on New York state to adopt the death penalty after five black and Latino teens were arrested for the assault in Central Park. Even though the five were wrongly convicted and later exonerated, Trump has refused to apologize for his scathing critiques.

“It was wrong then and it’s wrong now and I am proud to introduce a bill that completely abolishes the use of capital punishment as a punitive measure,” Pressley said.

The last federal execution took place in 2003. Since 2010, the federal government has had an informal moratorium on executions because manufacturers refused to sell the government lethal drugs.

In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.


Attorney General William Barr moved to resume the practice Thursday, when he announced that he had ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of five men on death row convicted of killing children.

Barr said the reinstatement of executions would “bring justice to victims of the most horrific crimes.”

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,’’ Barr said in a statement.

The executions are slated for December and January, according to a press release. Attorneys and legal scholars said Barr’s policy change will have little effect on the case of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev while his death sentence is under appeal.

Eleven other Democrats and one independent support Pressley’s bill.

This bill marks the latest move in Pressley’s ongoing battle with the Trump administration.

Last week, Trump lobbed racist attacks at Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, four progressive Democratic congresswoman known as the “the Squad.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.