Report: Supreme Court Divided on Death Penalty Case

According to a report from Reuters, Supreme Court “justices appeared badly split in a case challenging Oklahoma’s lethal injection method as a breach of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.” Arguments this week were described as “testy,” with the court’s five conservative judges appearing to side with the state, and the court’s four liberal judges seemingly siding with the trio of death row inmates who brought the case. The case itself is centered on a single drug used during the lethal injections, which the inmates say is not an effective enough sedative, and amounts to a violation of the Constitution. There have been several botched executions by prison officials in recent months, as states experiment with new drug cocktails since traditional lethal injection drugs have become harder to obtain.

Some of the conservative justices seemed to suggest that the case was really about the death penalty in principle, with Justice Samuel Alito comparing the legal strategy of attempting to ban non-painless drugs as “a guerrilla war against the death penalty.” According to the report, the opposing justices mostly focused on the drug itself, but Justice Stephen Breyer did suggest that “if there is no method of executing a person that does not cause unacceptable pain, that … might show that the death penalty is not consistent with the Eighth Amendment.” A ruling is due later this summer …

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