GOP: Wolf’s Execution Moratorium Unilaterally Changes the Law

The governor says the law allows him to grant reprieves.

Photo Credit: AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

Photo Credit: AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday morning that he is placing a temporary moratorium on executions as he awaits an upcoming report by the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment.

Shortly afterward, state Republicans condemned the move.

“Once again, the governor acted not in an open or transparent manner, but unilaterally deciding to alter the law,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana). “Part of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., has been caused by a chief executive who has decided to unilaterally make public policy decisions. If we are to avoid the same problems in Pennsylvania, all branches of government need to be included in those policy decisions.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre), too, said: “A moratorium on the death penalty is something that should be decided through an open and transparent process, not with the stroke of a pen. The Governor continues to emphasize transparency in his administration, while at the same time bypassing the legislative system that is in place which would allow for public comment on an issue such as this.”

Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for Turzai, says state law requires Wolf to sign death warrants.

Conversely, Jeffrey Sheridan, a spokesman for Wolf, says the governor is putting a moratorium into effect by granting temporary reprieves for inmates who are scheduled to be executed. He says a governor can choose not to sign a death warrant under state law, but then the Pennsylvania corrections secretary must set a date for an execution regardless. Sheridan says Wolf would then grant a temporary reprieve for inmates in those cases.

Miskin, however, says “there has to be a real reason — not a BS one” for a governor to grant a temporary reprieve.