Washington, D.C. (December 16, 2021)—Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Oversight Committee Member, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland requesting information about whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) plans to resume federal executions and procure pentobarbital sodium for use in such executions.

“Given its recent actions, we are concerned that DOJ may renew its efforts to obtain pentobarbital from non-FDA-regulated pharmacies for use in future federal executions.  This would be consistent with the actions of certain states that have continued using single-drug pentobarbital in state executions,” the Members wrote.

On August 14, 2019, the Subcommittee sent a letter to DOJ regarding the Trump Administration’s decision to resume federal executions using pentobarbital sodium in a single-drug, lethal-injection protocol, despite multiple reports from states that the drug caused incarcerated individuals to scream of burning pain and writhe in agony while strapped to gurneys.  Despite these concerning reports, the Trump Administration used pentobarbital sourced from compounding pharmacies, which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to conduct 13 executions between July 14, 2020, and January 16, 2021.

On July 1, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a moratorium on all federal executions pending a review of the 2019 letter.  But in October 2021, DOJ urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, raising questions about the Department’s plans to resume federal executions.

Several states have continued to use pentobarbital to execute incarcerated individuals, with at least 14 adopting the single-drug pentobarbital execution protocol.  Texas has executed three incarcerated people using this protocol since May 2021.  Most recently, 61-year-old Ernest Johnson was put to death using the single-drug pentobarbital execution protocol in Missouri.

The Members requested DOJ to provide a staff briefing by December 23, 2021, regarding its July 2021 review, including any findings; any plans to resume federal executions; any plans to procure pentobarbital for the purpose of conducting executions; and DOJ’s policies, practices, or guidance on federal executions.

Click here to read the letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.