The Biden administration on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev despite President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to end federal executions and the Justice Department’s current moratorium on the practice. The Supreme Court is seen on the first day of the new term, in Washington, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Supreme Court weighs whether to reinstate death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber

Kate Scanlon October 13, 02:04 PM October 13, 02:27 PM

The Biden administration on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev despite President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to end federal executions and the Justice Department’s current moratorium on the practice.

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Tsarnaev was convicted in 2015 for his role in the 2013 attack, which killed three and injured hundreds. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, evaded capture for four days, during which they fatally shot Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer Sean Collier and Dzhokhar ran over Tamerlan with a stolen SUV.

Tsarnaev was sentenced to death, but a federal appeals court overturned that sentence last year, citing procedural errors during his sentencing.

Then-President Donald Trump appealed to the Supreme Court to have the death sentence reinstated, an effort carried on by the Biden administration despite Biden’s campaign pledge to sign legislation to end the federal death penalty.

Not only did Biden pledge to end the practice, but Attorney General Merrick Garland announced in July the Department of Justice would halt federal executions while it conducts a review of its policies and procedures about the practice. But even under the moratorium, the department continues to maintain its ability to seek death sentences.

During Wednesday’s oral arguments, Justice Amy Coney Barrett noted this discrepancy when she asked Eric Feigin, deputy solicitor general, “what the government’s end game is here” in seeking the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

“So the government has declared a moratorium on executions, but you’re here defending his death sentences, and if you win, presumably that means that he is relegated to living under threat of a death sentence the government doesn’t plan to carry out, so I’m just having trouble following the point,” Barrett said.

Feigin replied that the administration “continues to believe the jury imposed a sound verdict and the court of appeals was wrong to upset that verdict.”

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As a candidate for president, Biden vowed to pass legislation ending the use of the federal death penalty, making him the first sitting president to oppose capital punishment. But the pledge marked a shift in his position on the issue: In 1994, Biden, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, helped pass laws adding 60 federal crimes that could be punished by death.

The case is a federal one, which is why the death penalty is a possible outcome, as Massachusetts no longer uses the death penalty. A 2015 poll conducted by Boston radio station WBUR found that most Boston-area voters supported a life sentence for Tsarnaev over the death penalty.

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