Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland halts federal executions and orders a review of protocols

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at a lectern
Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference on voting rights at the Department of Justice in Washington last week.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

The Justice Department is halting federal executions after a historic use of capital punishment by the Trump administration, which carried out 13 executions in six months.

Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland made the announcement Thursday night, saying he was imposing a moratorium on federal executions while the Justice Department conducts a review of its policies and procedures.

“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.”


President Trump’s Justice Department resumed federal executions in July, following a 17-year hiatus. No president in more than 120 years had overseen as many federal executions.

The last inmate to be executed, Dustin Higgs, was put to death at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., less than a week before Trump left office.

The executions at the end of Trump’s presidency, completed in short windows over a few weeks, likely acted as a superspreader event.

Feb. 5, 2021

President Biden has said he opposes the death penalty, and his team vowed that he would take action to stop its use while in office.

But the issue is an uncomfortable one for Biden. As a then-proponent of the death penalty, he helped craft 1994 laws that added 60 federal crimes for which someone could be put to death, including kidnappings during which someone dies. He later conceded the laws disproportionately affected Black people.