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Amicus Review: The power of clemency for federal death row prisoners

Amicus will be publishing a series of reviews and comments on the way capital punishment is presented within the media. Covering books, films, peer-reviewed articles and mainstream news, our work will cover the whole spectrum of public exposure to this violent form of justice. We hope that this will provide some context to the work that we do and raise awareness of the inherent injustices that face ordinary people on death row as well as recommending some good books and films along the way. If you have any questions about the project, the content or about our work then please get in touch at

The power of clemency for federal death row prisoners, by Mary Rizk - Review by Irram Basir


The article written by Mary Rizk discusses exactly what the title of the article is, the power of clemency for federal death row prisoners. The article highlights this by mentioning how there have been more federal executions in Trumps administration than in any other White House administration since 1927. It sheds light on how clemency is one of the strongest powers given to a president in the US constitution but on the fact that it is about institutional power that a president holds rather than justice an individual seeks. In his administration, Trump had only granted two rounds of clemency but didn’t pardon any prisoners on death row. However, he used his powers to pardon people who were loyal to him, such as his former campaign chairman and the father of his son-in-law. It mentions how Trump was in a hurry to execute death row prisoners as his time in office was coming to an end, which included two individuals, Lisa Montgomery, who was the first women executed in 67 years by federal authorities and Brandon Bernard, who was the youngest person in the US that received death sentence for a crime committed when he was an adolescent. The first was hoping to for clemency while the latter was hoping for pardon, but Trump did not listen to the UN nor politicians and celebrities who were vouching for these individuals. He used his power to execute these individuals rather than bringing them to justice.


This article relates to Amicus as Amicus aids to represent those facing the death penalty within the United States. They believe that the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on the most vulnerable in society, which violates their rights to due process and equal justice before the law. They work on the frontlines to create a change as this is the most effective way possible.

My opinion on this article is similar to that of the writers. I believe that the death penalty, specially under Trump’s administration was to use the power he had to execute the death row prisoners rather than grant them clemency or pardon. This can very well be seen through his actions. There were requests from UNHR experts that advised for clemency for Lisa Montgomery, but Trump did not pay heed and the Supreme Court ruled against her challenges for not being qualified for execution due to her mental health. The effects that clemency and pardon have will never compare with execution as execution has no teaching goals. The whole point is to make these prisoners understand the crime they have committed, which the death penalty won’t do. Every individual has the right to be heard and receive equal justice, which did not occur during Trump’s administration. It shouldn’t be in the hands of people to decide whether someone deserves to live or die, rather, these powerful individuals should create a reform to educate them. Doing good with the power one has will go a long way and will forever be remembered and appreciated.

Key Quote: “The death penalty is not a matter of justice but rather institutional power.”

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