Merrick Garland changes tune on death penalty

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Kathryn Krawczyk
·2 min read
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Before Merrick Garland was President Biden's attorney general nominee (and a blockaded pick for the Supreme Court), he was a top U.S. prosecutor. That's where he led the prosecution of high-profile domestic terrorism cases, including some where suspects received the death penalty.

But in the years since the U.S. government halted federal executions, Garland has "had a great pause" regarding the punishment, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee in his Monday confirmation hearing. He has particularly grown concerned about the exoneration of death row and other inmates years after their conviction, and that it has an "enormously disparate impact on Black Americans and communities of color." "A terrible thing occurs when somebody is convicted of a crime that they did not commit, and the most terrible thing happens if someone is executed for a crime they did not commit," Garland said.

Garland went on to tell Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) there's "no question that there's disparate treatment in our justice system," which "I think does arise out of implicit bias." That is apparent in America's "mass incarceration," something Garland said can be rectified by "focusing our attention on violent crimes" instead of "something like marijuana possession."

That led to a heated discussion between Garland and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) on just what systemic bias means.

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