Biden finally decides about death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber

(Jane Flavell Collins via AP)

This is a question that Ed asked back in March and it has remained a subject of debate ever since. Joe Biden ran for office on a promise to put an end to capital punishment and he remains under pressure from progressives to do just that. Democrats in Congress are still pondering legislation to do the same thing rather than relying on an executive order. But would such generosity be applied to everyone? Even to the worst of the worst? Specifically, would Joe Biden offer to commute the sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, assuming the courts reinstate his death sentence later this year? Now the wait is finally over and we have our answer. Uncle Joe’s generosity doesn’t extend quite that far and he’s open to having the little monster put down. (Boston Globe)

The Justice Department is asking the US Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

In a 48-page brief filed Monday, federal prosecutors said that a jury had concluded that Tsarnaev’s role in the 2013 bombings near the finish line on Boylston Street warranted the death sentence and that the verdict should be respected.

“The jury carefully considered each of [Tsarnaev’s] crimes and determined that capital punishment was warranted for the horrors that he personally inflicted — setting down a shrapnel bomb in a crowd and detonating it, killing a child and a promising young student, and consigning several others ‘to a lifetime of unimaginable suffering,’ “ the lawyers wrote. “That determination by 12 conscientious jurors deserves respect and reinstatement.”

This decision isn’t nearly as straightforward as that brief introduction would have you believe. This is sounding more and more like another case of Joe Biden wanting to eat his cake and have it too. We can see this from the statement released to the press by White House spokesperson Andrew Bates. He wrote, “The Justice Department has independence regarding such decisions.” But he went on to say “the president believes the Department should return to its prior practice, and not carry out executions.”

This is just straight-up malarkey. Joe Biden is trying to blame the Department of Justice for pursuing the death penalty for Tsarnaev as if his hands are tied. But that’s not the case at all. It’s Biden’s Justice Department now and his appointee, Attorney General Merrick Garland is calling the shots on Biden’s behalf. They have prosecutorial discretion in this matter just like every administration does. If Biden didn’t want any federal executions taking place he could have had Garland relay that opinion to the court. And even if the Supreme Court went ahead and reinstated the death sentence anyway, Joe Biden could whip out his pen and commute Tsarnaev’s sentence the next day.

But Biden finds himself in a bit of a trap here. He doesn’t want to keep ticking off his progressive base by backing off on his campaign promises. But at the same time, the country is increasingly in a mood for more law and order, given the spiraling crime rates in our cities. And Tsarnaev remains one of the most despised fiends on the continent. He doesn’t want to seem too soft on crime, particularly going into a midterm election season where victory for his party is far from assured.

While I agree with the final decision to move forward with executing that monster, this is just a wishy-washy approach for Joe Biden to take. Either the death penalty is justified in some cases or it isn’t. If you believe it’s okay for Tsarnaev then it will eventually be okay for other monsters that come behind him. (And there are plenty of monsters on the waiting list currently.) If the death penalty is never morally acceptable, then commute the sentences of all the monsters and take responsibility for that decision. You can’t have it both ways.