Biden has been mum on whether he would immediately enact a moratorium on executions upon inauguration or whether he would only seek abolition through Congress. His team did not respond to a request for comment. Either way, his posture is a radical departure from that of President Donald Trump, who has overseen the most federal executions in at least a century.
Biden’s history-making stance—a reversal of a position he appeared to hold as recently as his time in the Obama White House—is a product of the influence of the so-called criminal justice reform movement on him and senior members of both parties. While some of that movement’s goals are popular, ending capital punishment is not. A majority of Americans, including 40 percent of Democrats, still favor death for murderers; nearly 60 percent oppose abolition.
Instead, Biden’s about-face on capital punishment is a major victory for some of his party’s wealthiest benefactors, who are uniquely opposed to the practice: The richest Democratic donors are 40 points more likely to back death penalty abolition than the party’s rank and file. This group has a history of backing anti-democratic efforts to block executions. Now, their project has its most powerful ally yet, one whose decisions could end the death penalty—whether the American people like it or not.