National Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
1629 K Street, NW
Suite 1010
Washington, DC 20006

December 1, 2000

Dear Mr. President:

On the eve of the first federal execution in almost forty years, we urge you to declare an executive moratorium on federal executions to ensure that the United States does not carry out these death sentences at a time when our nation questions the fairness of the federal death penalty system. We are deeply disturbed by the recently released Department of Justice report showing evidence of racial and geographic disparity in the implementation of the federal death penalty.

During a September 12th press conference, Attorney General Reno stated that “an even broader analysis must be undertaken to determine if bias does, in fact, play any role in the federal death penalty system.” She asked the National Institute for Justice to solicit research proposals from outside experts to analyze the data but to date it is unclear whether proposals have been even received. Those reviews have not yet commenced, and cannot be completed before the execution of Mr. Garza is scheduled to go forward. In the face of so many serious and unanswered questions, we urge you in the strongest terms to forbid federal executions from taking place.

Texas ranks first in its use of the federal death penalty. There are eight states that have sought Attorney General authorization to use the death penalty in more than twenty cases. The rate of authorization exceeds fifty percent in only one state – Texas. In the remaining seven states the rate of authorization is between fifteen and thirty-eight percent. Of the current federal death row population of 21, six people, nearly thirty percent, were prosecuted in Texas. These findings are particularly disturbing in light of the fact that as a state, Texas executes more of its citizens than any other.

It is very likely that if Mr. Garza were prosecuted in a different state he would not be facing execution. Mr. Garza’s case is emblematic of the inequities in the federal system. He was prosecuted pre-1995, before the Justice Department adopted protocols to review all federal death penalty prosecutions. During this pre-protocol era, every one of the capital defendants prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys in Texas was Hispanic. There is a very real risk that Mr. Garza’s death sentence resulted from racial, ethnic and geographic bias.

We know that you have expressed concern about the findings in the Department of Justice survey. When it was released in September, White House spokesman Jake Siewart confirmed your view that “these numbers are troubling” and that more information must be gathered to determine “more about how the system works and what’s behind those numbers,” including “why minorities in some geographic districts are disproportionately represented.”

Mr. President, we believe it would be unconscionable for the federal government to carry out executions at a time when nagging questions about the federal death penalty system have been raised but are still unanswered. A declaration of an executive moratorium will assure the country that an investigation into questions surrounding the federal death penalty will continue until satisfactory answers are found. Indeed, such action would be consistent with the vast majority of Americans who have come to support a suspension of executions until questions of fairness are addressed.

We remain hopeful that you will see the need to intervene to prevent federal executions until the reasons for racial bias and arbitrary regional disparities can be examined adequately and potential remedies considered. Thank you for your attention to this issue. We look forward to hearing from you.


Dr. Dorothy I. Height, Chairperson
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Adjamu Baraka, Acting Director
Program to Abolish the Death Penalty
Amnesty International, USA

Herbert Blinder, Director
Washington Ethical Action Office
American Ethical Union

Robert Cushing, Executive Director
Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation

Ron Daniels, Executive Director
Center for Constitutional Rights

John E. Echohawk, Executive Director
Native American Rights Fund

Daryl Fagin, Executive Director
Americans for Democratic Action

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Associate General Secretary For Public Policy
National Council of Churches

Thomas H. Hart
Director, Government Relations
Episcopal Church

Patricia Ireland, President
National Organization for Women

Elaine R. Jones, Director-Counsel
NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

George Kourpias, President
National Council of Senior Citizens

Martin Krupnick, President
Workmens Circle-Arbeter Ring

Thomas McDaniels, Director of National Policy
The Legal Action Center

Jon Melegrito, Executive Director
National Federation of Filipino American Associations

Rabbi Paul Menitoff
The Central Conference of American Rabbis

Laura Murphy
Director, Washington Office
American Civil Liberties Union

Karen Narasaki, Executive Director
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium

Rev. Russel O’Silver, Director
Lutheran Office for Government

Hugh B. Price, President and CEO
National Urban League

Ellen Y. Rosenberg, Executive Director
Women of Reform Judaism

Rev. Ken Sehested, Executive Director
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America

Hilary Shelton
Director, Washington Bureau


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