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When Joe Biden took the oath of office as the 46th president of the United States, opponents of America’s death penalty, including me, celebrated. We took heart from his stated opposition to capital punishment and his campaign promise to end the federal death penalty. It seemed as if the United States had its first abolitionist president.
During his campaign, Biden pledged that he would stop federal executions, propose legislation to abolish the death penalty at the federal level, and provide incentives for states to follow suit. He recognized that America’s death penalty system is rife with error and unfairness. “Because we can’t ensure that we get these cases right every time,” candidate Biden tweeted, “we must eliminate the death penalty.”
Death penalty opponents, heartened by such promises, called on the new president to take bold, dramatic action on Day One of his administration. One month before Biden took office, 45 members of Congress, led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, wrote to the president-elect, asking him to act on Jan. 20 “to clearly demonstrate your commitment to eliminating the death penalty.”
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