In a surprise turnaround, the Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentence against the Boston Marathon bomber.
The request comes while President Joe Biden promised on the campaign trail last year to abolish capital punishment.
The Supreme Court agreed March 22 to hear the government’s appeal.
Oral arguments are expected in the court’s new term that begins in October.
Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar asked the justices on June 14 to overturn a July 31, 2020, ruling by the liberal U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit that vacated the federal death sentence pronounced against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the lone surviving perpetrator of the 2013 attack that has been deemed one of the worst acts of terrorism on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. Three people were killed and 260 injured. The appeals court held that the trial court had not properly assessed potential jury bias, and the Trump administration appealed.
The government’s brief says Tsarnaev, a Muslim, is a “radical jihadist … bent on killing Americans.” He told a friend he wanted to “bring justice for [his] people” and attain the “highest level of Jannah [paradise],” which his friend interpreted as meaning that Tsarnaev wanted to wage jihad. He expressed the same wish to his followers on Twitter, whom he encouraged to view al-Qaeda lectures, and he publicly prayed for “victory over kufr [infidels].”
Working with his late brother, Tamerlan, Tsarnaev placed homemade pressure-cooker shrapnel bombs filled with BBs and nails near the crowded finish line area of the Boston Marathon. The bombs caused devastating injuries that left the street with “a ravaged, combat-zone look.”
During the 2020 presidential campaign, as the Trump administration resumed federal executions after a years-long pause, Biden said the death penalty should be abolished.
When the Supreme Court decided in the spring to hear the case, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Biden’s opposition to the death penalty.
“President Biden made clear, as he did on the campaign trail, that he has grave concerns about whether capital punishment, as currently implemented, is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness. He’s also expressed his horror at the events of that day and … Tsarnaev’s actions,” Psaki said, CNN reported at the time.