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Tue May 14, 2019, 09:03 AM

Last-minute execution decisions expose wide and bitter rift at Supreme Court

Supreme Court's Conservatives Defend Their Handling Of Death Penalty Cases
May 14, 20195:00 AM ET

NINA TOTENBERG | Facebook | Twitter

The bitter battle over the death penalty continued Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court with the highly unusual release of explanatory statements from the court's conservatives as to why they reached such apparently contradictory decisions in two death cases in February and March.

On Feb. 7, the court ruled by a 5-4 vote that Alabama could go ahead with its execution of a Muslim prisoner convicted of murder. The newly energized five-man conservative majority overruled the temporary stay put in place by the lower court because Alabama allowed only a Christian minister in the execution room and refused to allow the condemned man's imam to be present. ... The decision was widely condemned by religious groups on the left and right, not to mention the blistering dissent from the court's liberals, who called the decision "profoundly wrong."

Then, just seven weeks later, the court stayed the execution of a Buddhist Texas death row inmate, who similarly claimed that he was denied the right to have his spiritual adviser in the death chamber. This time only two justices — Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — noted their dissents. ... The two apparently conflicting decisions were so puzzling that they left even the lawyers involved in the cases scratching their heads.

A pre-dawn dissent

Then two weeks later, the court was again deeply and emotionally divided in a death case that had the members of the court up late into the pre-dawn hours. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissent for the court's liberals that castigated the conservative majority for refusing to block an execution even after the state had decided it was too late to go forward with it.

Last-minute requests for stays of execution are usually decided at the Supreme Court in private, with scant reasons given. That changed Monday, with a flurry of opinions that exposed a wide and bitter rift among justices

Amy Howe

Posted Mon, May 13th, 2019 7:25 pm

Justices spar over death penalty

Tensions over the death penalty resurfaced today at the Supreme Court. The justices declined to take up two petitions for review filed by death-row inmates in Alabama and Tennessee, in orders accompanied by opinions that were sometimes biting. The justices also took the unusual step of issuing new opinions relating to their decision in March to put the execution of a Texas inmate on hold.

In the early morning hours on April 12, the Supreme Court cleared the way for Alabama to execute Christopher Price, who was on death row for the brutal 1991 murder of Bill Lynn, a minister who had been putting together Christmas presents for his grandchildren. The lower courts had put Price’s execution on hold to give them more time to consider his claim that the state’s plan to execute him by lethal injection would violate the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Instead, Price contended, he should be executed using lethal nitrogen gas.

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented from the court’s order overturning the stay of execution, in a highly personal and often scathing opinion that criticized his colleagues for (among other things) not waiting to act until after the justices met for their private conference the next day.

Although the justices vacated the stay of execution, the state had already postponed Price’s execution because the death warrant expired at midnight on April 12. Today the justices denied review of Price’s petition for certiorari, and Justice Clarence Thomas took the opportunity to write a statement – joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – concurring in the denial.

[Disclosure: Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman was my client for many years while I was practicing law, but I no longer represent him and am not involved in this case.]

This post was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Justices spar over death penalty, SCOTUSblog (May. 13, 2019, 7:25 PM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2019/05/justices-spar-over-death-penalty/

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Reply Last-minute execution decisions expose wide and bitter rift at Supreme Court (Original post)
mahatmakanejeeves May 2019 OP
PoindexterOglethorpe May 2019 #1
LuvNewcastle May 2019 #2

Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Tue May 14, 2019, 10:02 AM

1. Pre-meditated state sanctioned murder.

That's what I encourage people to call "the death penalty."

Because it really is pre-meditated murder.

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Response to PoindexterOglethorpe (Reply #1)

Tue May 14, 2019, 10:46 AM

2. Some people on death row have been proven innocent.

As imperfect as our justice system is, it isn't right for our government to mete out sentences that it can't take back. Capital punishment is wrong on so many levels, and the people in our government who want to hurry up and execute people need to be removed.

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