WASHINGTON (CN) – The D.C. Circuit on Monday kept in place a federal judge’s order blocking the Trump administration from carrying out the first federal executions in nearly two decades.
The one-page, unsigned order denies a motion to stay or vacate an injunction U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan entered on Nov. 20 that blocked the administration from carrying out the death penalties of four men who had execution dates. Chutkan, an appointee of President Barack Obama who sits on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, found it likely that the Trump administration’s plans to execute the men using lethal injection violated federal law.
The Ninth Circuit in a separate decision blocked the execution of Lezmond Mitchell, a Navajo man convicted of murder in 2001 who was set to be executed on Dec. 11.
The Trump administration had appealed Chutkan’s ruling and asked the D.C. Circuit for a stay, noting it takes a significant amount of time to prepare for executions, the first of which is scheduled for Dec. 9.
The Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment on the D.C. Circuit’s decision.
Attorney General William Barr announced in July that the Trump administration would bring back federal executions for the first time since 2003, beginning with Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist convicted of killing an Oklahoma couple and an 8-year-old girl.
In addition to Lee and Mitchell, the administration set execution dates for Wesley Ira Purkey, convicted of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl; Alfred Bourgeois, who was sentenced to death for torturing and beating to death his 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter; and Dustin Lee Honken, who was convicted of killing two men, a woman and her daughters, ages 6 and 10.
Despite the graphic nature of the crimes for which the men have been sentenced, criminal-justice reform advocates have pointed to extenuating circumstances they say should weigh against taking their lives.
Purkey, Bourgeois and Honken, for example, have intellectual, mental or physical disabilities, while the prosecutor and family members of the victims in Lee’s case have publicly said they oppose his execution. Advocates also point to a host of flaws in the cases, such as errors from attorneys who handled the cases for the men and courts accepting now-debunked science to look past intellectual disabilities.