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Trump administration vows to take case to bring back death penalty to Supreme Court

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Washington — At a time when several states, including some with Republican governors and legislatures, are moving away from the death penalty, the Trump administration wants to restart federal executions, which have been on hiatus for 16 years.

A federal judge blocked its plan this week, but Attorney General William Barr said he would take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan temporarily halted the execution of five men because she said the death-row inmates are likely to win their legal challenges.

The public is not served by "short-circuiting" legitimate judicial process, she wrote. "It is greatly served by attempting to ensure that the most serious punishment is imposed lawfully."

Hours later, Barr told The Associated Press that he won't stop pursuing this policy change unless the nation's highest court rules against it.

The inmates argue that the government is circumventing proper methods in order to wrongly execute inmates quickly.

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Attorney General William Barr speaks to reporters after touring the Edgefield Federal Correctional Institution on July 8, 2019, in Edgefield, South Carolina. AP

Danny Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, was scheduled to be executed first, on December 9. He was convicted in the 1996 deaths of an Arkansas family as part of a plot to set up a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest. 

Lee's request for a new trial was denied in February even though the federal judge noted that evidence presented by his attorneys "is reasonably likely" to have led to a different sentence.

Since 2000, nine states have abolished capital punishment, and four currently have a governor-imposed moratorium on it, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The issue has become one in which both parties rally around a similar goal: abolishing the death penalty. While Democrats generally oppose capital punishment on moral grounds, some Republicans complain about the cost of fighting decades-long legal battles that ensue once someone is placed on death row.

President Trump himself has expressed support for the death penalty. Last year, he proposed making it a possible punishment for drug dealers as a way of fighting the opioid epidemic. 

Kathryn Watson contributed reporting.

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