Outrage at GOP Plan for Execution Spree If Donald Trump Wins

A conservative plan to execute every person on federal death row if former President Donald Trump returns to the White House has sparked alarm and outrage.

Thirteen prisoners were put to death in the final months of the first Trump administration in an unprecedented run of federal executions.

President Joe Biden has not kept a promise to abolish the federal death penalty, although his Justice Department announced a moratorium on federal executions in 2021—a pause that could end if Trump wins in November.

Much of the planning for a possible second Trump term has been unofficially outsourced to Project 2025, a coalition of conservative organizations, The Washington Post reported in November.

In April 2023, Project 2025 released a 900-page report called “Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise,” which lays out policy proposals to thoroughly reshape the federal government in the event of a GOP win in the 2024 presidential election.

More than 500 pages into the report, Gene Hamilton, a former Trump administration official, wrote in a chapter on the Department of Justice that the next conservative administration should “do everything possible to obtain finality for the 44 prisoners currently on federal death row.”

Death penalty opponents say the report indicates that a second Trump administration would not hesitate to carry out federal executions in quick succession—and that it should serve as “a wake-up call” for the Biden administration to commute the sentences of people on federal death row.

Donald Trump returns to the courtroom
Former President Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on May 14. A conservative plan to resume and expand the federal death penalty in a second Trump term has sparked outrage.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

In the report, Hamilton wrote about not only resuming the death penalty but expanding it, saying the next conservative administration “should also pursue the death penalty for applicable crimes—particularly heinous crimes involving violence and sexual abuse of children—until Congress says otherwise through legislation.”

Hamilton added in a footnote that pursing the death penalty for those convicted of sexually abusing children “could require seeking the Supreme Court to overrule” Kennedy v. Louisiana—a 2008 case in which justices outlawed the executions of those convicted of raping a child—but that the department “should place a priority on doing so.”

Newsweek has contacted the White House, the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign for comment via email.

Abraham Bonowitz, the executive director of Death Penalty Action, told Newsweek that Trump’s “personal fetish for power is on steroids when it comes to executions.”

The plan “to massively increase executions should he be elected should be deeply concerning to everyone,” Bonowitz continued, adding that Trump “has said he wants to execute U.S. military leaders and other U.S. government officials who opposed his off-the-rails and treasonous agendas. Someone needs to remind him he is running for president of the United States of America, not North Korea.”

The Reverend Jeff Hood, who has been a spiritual adviser to dozens of people on death row, told Newsweek that “the promises of mass execution are disturbing but not surprising.”

He added, “We must do everything we can to keep such horrors from happening.”

Austin Sarat, a political scientist who has written extensively about botched executions and the death penalty, said the Project 2025 plan served as “yet another wake-up call for progressives as to why they cannot afford to sit on their hands during the 2024 presidential campaign, and to the Biden administration as to why they should stop temporizing about capital punishment.”

“Project 2025’s ‘Mandate for Leadership’ offers a way for Trump to turn his fantasies and fervor about the death penalty into a chilling plan of action,” Sarat wrote in a Slate op-ed published Tuesday.

He added: “That is why, at the very least, Joe Biden should use his clemency power to commute the sentence of everyone now on the federal death row. It is why progressives, who now may harbor doubts about Biden, must enlist as loyal foot soldiers in his reelection campaign.”

Death penalty opponents have long called for Biden to take action on ending the federal death penalty, concerned that a future president could easily lift the moratorium.

“After the horrific killing spree we saw under the Trump administration, the importance of this promise could not be more clear,” Cassandra Stubbs, the director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, previously told Newsweek.

The Trump administration spent millions carrying out federal executions in the final months of his presidency. Those executions were shrouded in secrecy, the Associated Press reported, with officials cutting corners and relying on the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to clear legal obstacles to completing the executions.