WASHINGTON (OSV News) – A bill to ban the use of capital punishment by the federal government was reintroduced in Congress, where it faces steep odds for passage.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is also Senate majority whip and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., reintroduced July 13 their bill, the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act, bicameral legislation that would prohibit the use of the death penalty at the federal level and require re-sentencing for those individuals currently on death row.

The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington, D.C. September 4, 2022. (OSV News/Elizabeth Frantz, Reuters)

In a statement, Durbin called the death penalty “deeply flawed and disproportionately imposed on Black and Brown and low-income people in America.”

“Our bill follows the lead of 23 states, including Illinois, by finally putting an end to this failed and unjust policy at the federal level,” Durbin said. “I thank Congresswoman Pressley and our colleagues who are joining us in this effort.”

In her own statement, Pressley said, “State-sanctioned murder is not justice, and it’s time we abolish the cruel, racist, and fundamentally flawed death penalty that has been weaponized against Black, brown and low-income people for far too long.”

“With momentum growing across the country, Congress must follow suit and pass our bill to end the federal death penalty once and for all,” Pressley said. “I’m grateful to Chairman Durbin and our movement partners for their continued partnership and commitment to getting this done.”

The 2023 version of the legislation, which was originally introduced by the same lawmakers in 2019 after the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement during the Trump administration that it would resume the use of the death penalty.

A spokesperson for the U.S. bishop’s conference told OSV News the group plans to support the bill. The conference also supported previous versions of the legislation.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, a national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty and one of the groups supporting the bill, said in a statement that if passed, the bill “would eradicate the flawed and morally bankrupt federal death penalty system.”

“As Catholics who believe in the inviolability of human dignity, we understand that we cannot build a culture of life with a federal government that can put people to death,” she said. “This legislation opens up the possibility for more healing and life-affirming forms of justice.”

Vaillancourt Murphy said it was “this very month three years ago that the Trump administration broke a 17-year hiatus from federal executions and took the life of Daniel Lewis Lee.”

“In the six months that followed, the administration went on to kill a dozen more people, disregarding ample evidence that the federal death penalty system is racially biased, arbitrary, and fraught with errors,” she said. “This shocking backslide into executions tarnished any claim the administration made to be ‘pro-life.'”

“There is little doubt that capital punishment will one day be abolished in the United States, but time is of the essence,” Vaillancourt Murphy continued. “As long as executions are legal, human lives are on the line. It’s time for Congress to exert the political will and moral courage needed to abolish the federal death penalty once and for all.”

Although President Joe Biden promised as a candidate that he would end the federal death penalty, the bill faces steep odds in Congress, where a Republican-controlled House is likely to oppose it. But the bill also faces difficult odds in the Democratically-controlled Senate, where it would need the support of 60 senators to clear the upper chamber’s filibuster rule.

(OSV News) – Gov. Josh Shapiro called on Pennsylvania’s legislature Feb. 16 to end the death penalty, marking the first time a governor of the Keystone State has formally called on lawmakers to abolish the practice. Shapiro also said he will not authorize its use during his term.

Shapiro, a Democrat who was sworn in Jan. 17 as governor, announced his decision during remarks while visiting the Mosaic Community Church in West Philadelphia.

“I will not issue any execution warrants during my term as Governor,” Shapiro wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.

The death chamber table is seen in 2010 at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro called on his state legislature Feb. 16, 2023, to end the death penalty, marking the first time a Pennsylvania governor has formally called on the legislature to abolish the practice. (CNS photo/courtesy Jenevieve Robbins, Texas Department of Criminal Justice handout via Reuters/OSV News)

“When one comes to my desk, I will sign a reprieve every time — and I’m asking the General Assembly to send me a bill abolishing the death penalty in Pennsylvania once and for all,” he said.

Shapiro, who has been vocal about his Jewish faith, cast his decision as a matter of conscience.

“I have considered every aspect of Pennsylvania’s capital sentencing system, reflected on my conscience and weighed the tremendous responsibilities I have,” he said. “Pennsylvania should do what 25 other states have done in outlawing the death penalty or refusing to impose it.”

Shapiro stressed that his decision not to authorize the practice “is not a statement on the integrity of individual capital convictions in Pennsylvania.”

“This is a fundamental statement of morality,” he said. “Of what’s right and wrong. And I believe Pennsylvania must be on the right side of this issue.”

Shapiro’s remarks dovetail with the Catholic Church’s call to abolish the death penalty worldwide.

In his 2020 encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis cited the writings of St. John Paul II, whom he said “stated clearly and firmly that the death penalty is inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice.”

“There can be no stepping back from this position,” Pope Francis wrote. “Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”

The pontiff also revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC, No. 2267) in 2018 to reflect that position.

“We applaud Governor Shapiro’s decision to not issue any death warrants during his term as Pennsylvania’s governor,” Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, told OSV News. The group she heads opposes capital punishment consistent with Catholic teaching.

“His announcement today went an important step further by urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to pursue repeal legislation, and to make a concerted effort to remove capital punishment from Pennsylvania’s books for good,” Vaillancourt Murphy said. “His announcement is an important reminder that governors have a critical role to play in moving states away from vengeful systems like capital punishment and toward more equitable and life-affirming approaches to justice.”

Vaillancourt Murphy said Shapiro “is correct in saying that ending capital punishment comes down to morality — the death penalty’s systemic flaws are plentiful, but the degree of its moral bankruptcy is interminable.”

“Because of this, it will take strong moral will from our political leaders to abolish it,” she added. “We were grateful to see an example of this kind of moral leadership coming from Gov. Shapiro today, and we pray that more governors in death penalty states will soon follow suit.”

Pennsylvania has carried out three executions since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and currently has the country’s fifth largest death row.

In 2021, the Biden administration ordered a moratorium on carrying out federal death sentences. That policy suspended, but did not end, the practice at the federal level.