Major U.S. editorial writers have criticized the Biden administration’s June 30, 2021 announcement of a temporary moratorium on executions while the Department of Justice reviews Trump administration changes to U.S. execution practices, saying that the pause for a limited policy review fails to fulfill the President’s campaign pledge to work to end the federal death penalty.

In editorials between July 5 and July 8, the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and CNHI Pulitzer Prize-winning editorialist Jeff Gerritt, now editor of the Sharon Herald in Pennsylvania, say a review of regulations and policies implemented as part of the Trump administration’s unprecedented spree of 13 federal civilian executions in just over six months is not enough. To uphold Biden’s pledge, they write, the administration should halt capital prosecutions and commute the sentences of all of the prisoners on federal death row.

In a July 6 editorial reprinted in numerous papers across the country, the Post-Dispatch said that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s federal execution moratorium “should be the first step toward full death-penalty abolition.” The editorial board wrote that “temporarily halting all pending federal executions is a necessary start, but Biden should move quickly beyond it: He should commute all current and future federal death sentences on his watch to life in prison without parole. He should push for legislation abolishing the federal death penalty going forward. And he should use the federal power of the purse to incentivize state governments to follow suit.”

The Washington Post editorial board wrote on July 5, that “Attorney General Merrick Garland has put the death penalty on pause. But President Biden has pledged to end capital punishment. So why just a pause?” Saying “[a] pause on the death penalty isn’t enough,” the Post wrote: “Mr. Biden was elected after clearly stating his views to the American people, and the law gives him the power to commute sentences to life without probation or parole. While Mr. Biden should work with Congress to eradicate the possibility of federal executions going forward, he can eradicate federal executions for those living today with the sentence looming over them. The American people gave him a mandate to get out of the business of state-sponsored killing — not merely to press the pause button.”

In his editorial in the Sharon Herald, also distributed as a column across the CNHI network of 89 local news outlets, Gerritt wrote: “Given the death penalty’s systemic problems, the review [of execution policies] is irrelevant. It’s time to end government-sponsored killing, not debate whether lethal injection, electrocution, gas, or the firing squad is more cruel.”

While Biden would have to obtain the cooperation of a “hyper-partisan and divided Congress” to repeal capital punishment, Gerritt wrote, he does not need congressional assistance to commute the sentences of all federal death row prisoners. “Such decisive action would, in effect, end the federal death penalty for a generation, and send an unequivocal message to the 27 states with death penalty laws … that this vestige of barbarism should end.”

The Post editorial joined with Gerritt in questioning the DOJ’s limited review of the Trump execution policies, writing, “Certainly, flawed and painful modes of execution make a cruel and unusual punishment crueller still. But that should be beside the point. Killing by government is immoral, ineffective and unpopular. It also has been applied in a racist manner, with respect to the race of both victims and perpetrators.”

The Post-Dispatch cited “the virtual inevitability” of executing the innocent and “the shift in public opinion away from use of the ultimate punishment” as reasons why the current moratorium should be just a first step toward full death-penalty abolition. It sharply critiqued Trump for “shamelessly politicizing” capital punishment and carrying out an historically anomalous 13 federal executions, “more than in any similar span of time since the late 1800s.” The Post-Dispatch was especially critical of the six executions “conducted after Trump lost reelection to an opponent who had vowed to cease all executions, leaving the unseemly impression Trump’s administration was trying to get as much killing done as possible before his successor could stop it.”

“Most nations in the advanced world long ago ended the barbaric practice of killing their own citizens as punishment for crimes,” the Post-Dispatch editorial board wrote. “On this most central of justice issues, it’s time for America to finally join the modern world.”