There's A GOP Plan For An Execution Spree If Trump Wins The White House

Buried on page 554 of the plan is a directive to execute every remaining person on federal death row — and dramatically expand the use of the death penalty.

During the final six months of Donald Trump’s presidency, his administration carried out an unprecedented execution spree, killing 13 people on federal death row and ending a 17-year de facto federal execution moratorium.

Shortly after Joe Biden entered the White House, the Justice Department formally reinstated the federal execution moratorium and announced a sweeping policy review. But despite Biden’s campaign promise to work to end the federal death penalty, there has been little progress toward that goal.

Meanwhile, Trump, the GOP’s presumptive 2024 presidential nominee, has openly fantasized about executing drug dealers and human traffickers. He reportedly suggested that officials who leak information to the press should be executed, too. And behind the scenes, there’s a team of pro-Trump conservatives who are pushing for a second Trump term that involves even more state-sponsored killing than the first.

Last year, a coalition effort by conservative groups known as Project 2025 released an 887-page document that lays out policy goals and recommendations for each part of the federal government. Buried on page 554 is a directive to execute every remaining federal death row prisoner — and to persuade the Supreme Court to expand the types of crimes that can be punished with death sentences.

Gene Hamilton, the author of the transition playbook’s Department of Justice chapter, wrote that the next conservative administration should “do everything possible to obtain finality” for every prisoner on federal death row, which currently includes 40 people.

“It should also pursue the death penalty for applicable crimes—particularly heinous crimes involving violence and sexual abuse of children—until Congress says otherwise through legislation,” he wrote. In a footnote, Hamilton said that this could require the Supreme Court to overrule a previous case, “but the [Justice] department should place a priority on doing so.”

Hamilton, a former Trump DOJ and Department of Homeland Security official, played a leading role in ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — the program that provided protections against deportation for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — and the “zero-tolerance” border policy that resulted in separating children from their families.

Trump’s presidential campaign did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

The Project 2025 proposal envisions an extreme shift in how the death penalty is used in America. The 13 executions carried out at the end of Trump’s presidency marked the greatest number of federal executions in a single year since 1896. Although there are nonhomicide federal crimes, like treason, that technically carry the death penalty, every person on federal death row was convicted of crimes involving the death of a victim, according to Robin Maher, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

“A major principle of the use of the death penalty in the modern era is that we are confining the use of the death penalty to not only the worst of the worst crimes, but the very worst offenders,” Maher said. “To expand the death penalty would just be a sea change that would affect decades of jurisprudence, and I don’t think there are enough votes on the [Supreme] Court for that to happen.”

The high court has repeatedly held that carrying out the death penalty for rape would violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment — first in a 1977 case involving the rape of a woman, and again in a 2008 case involving the rape of a child. During the 2008 case, which ended in a 5-4 decision, several groups for survivors of sexual assault urged against the death penalty for child rape, arguing that it would hinder young victims’ healing process. Three of the four justices who voted to allow the death penalty as punishment for child sexual assault are still on the court, along with three other conservative justices.

Despite these Supreme Court rulings, there have been multiple state-level efforts to expand death sentences to nonhomicide cases. Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill allowing the death penalty in child rape convictions. At a bill-signing event, DeSantis said that the decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana, the 2008 Supreme Court case, “was wrong” and that his state’s new law provided a way to “challenge that precedent.” Months later, a central Florida prosecutor sought the death penalty against a man accused of raping a child, although that case ended in a plea deal resulting in a life prison sentence.

Lawmakers in Tennessee recently passed a similar bill, which awaits a signature or a veto by the governor.

In 2021, Biden became the first president to openly oppose the death penalty. It was a dramatic evolution for the politician who previously sponsored a landmark 1994 crime bill that included an expansion of the use of the federal death penalty. Death penalty abolition advocates hoped that the Democratic president would whip votes in Congress for a bill to end the federal death penalty or, at the very least, commute the sentences of those on death row to life in prison so that a future president could not immediately resume executions.

Instead, Biden has been noticeably silent on the issue. Although the Justice Department has paused executions and is conducting a comprehensive review of execution policies and procedures, it has also continued to fight in court against people on death row who challenge their sentences.

“There are many cases where the prisoners have been diagnosed with intellectual disability, or have shown their prosecutions were infected with racial bias, just for example,” Ruth Friedman, the Federal Capital Habeas Project director, said in an interview.

“The DOJ could be taking a fresh look at these cases and considering whether to face these failures. But instead they are vigorously fighting every one, and that’s disheartening,” she said.

“It’s terrific they are not executing anyone right now, but if they usher them all into an administration they know will, what have they done? They can and should be taking a real look at the problems in these cases.”

The Justice Department is also seeking the death sentence for Payton Gendron, who who killed 10 Black people at a New York supermarket.

“I wouldn't say that the White House has been actively engaging people to support the bill [to abolish the federal death penalty].”

- Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.)

There are multiple bills in the House and Senate that would abolish the federal death penalty, some of which have been introduced multiple times without coming to a vote. Last year, the White House declined to answer a question about whether it worked to shore up Democratic support for such legislation. The White House did not respond to questions for this story.

“I wouldn’t say that the White House has been actively engaging people to support the bill,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), the sponsor of one of the death penalty bills in the House. “I think their response to the death penalty issue was to implement this moratorium.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who has repeatedly introduced bicameral death penalty abolition legislation with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said in an interview that they are making progress. When she and Durbin first introduced bills in 2019, there were only 20 co-sponsors across both chambers of Congress, she said. Now, there are more than 80 sponsors total, as well as support from more than 265 organizations.

Still, that represents less than one-third of Democrats in the House and less than half of those in the Senate. Asked if she thought Biden had done all that he could to get congressional Democrats on board with the bill, Pressley said: “I don’t think it is any one person’s responsibility to advance an issue. That is the work of movement-building, and that’s what we’ve been doing. The whole reason that you continue to reintroduce legislation is to continue to bring other people along.”

“At any one time, there could be 12,000 active pieces of legislation,” Pressley continued. “Oftentimes, and I’ll include myself in this, there are bills whose sentiments I’m very much aligned with, but I just didn’t know existed.”

Correction: A previous version of this story suggested the federal charges against Payton Gendron have been resolved; he is still facing a potential federal death sentence.


What's Hot