Supreme Court dismisses challenge to death penalty
The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the federal government’s death penalty by lethal injection.
The decision by the high court, turning away a challenge by several death row inmates, allows execution dates to begin in mid-July.
“The application for a stay of the mandate pending the disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari presented to the Chief Justice and referred to the Court is denied. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied,” the order reads.
Liberal Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton nominee, and Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama nominee, indicated they would have granted the writ of certiorari required to hear a case. But four justices must agree to hear a case before the high court.
The inmates challenging the penalty in the case, Alfred Bourgeois v. Attorney General William Barr, claimed the Trump administration’s new execution protocol violated the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act, which states that the government must impose the death penalty “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed.”
Last year, Attorney General William Barr ordered executions to resume, beginning with five men convicted of murdering or raping children and the elderly. They are the first federal punishments of death carried out since 2003.
“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Barr said then. “The Justice Department upholds the rule of law.”
Barr ordered a change to the chemical compound used for federal executions, which was a combination of three drugs, to a single drug: phenobarbital. When administered in high doses, the drug causes respiratory arrest. It has been used in 200 executions since 2010 and been permitted by the high court in the past by states as consistent with the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department scheduled the execution of four convicted child murderers Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken, and Keith Nelson.
“The American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death,” Barr said in a statement. “The four murderers whose executions are scheduled today have received full and fair proceedings under our Constitution and laws. We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”
Last year, a federal judge blocked the Justice Department’s decision to move forward with executions, but a three-judge panel on the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals sided with the Trump administration in spring.
“We do share the government’s concern about further delay from multiple rounds of litigation,” the appeals court said in a 2-1 vote. “But the government did not seek immediate resolution of all the plaintiffs’ claims, including the constitutional claims and the claim that the protocol and addendum are arbitrary and capricious under the APA.”
However, the appeals court did note that the executions would be put on hold while litigation in lower court settings continued.