Moments before a Mississippi prisoner was scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday evening, the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution and thus gave a nearly indisputable indication that a majority intends to block all executions until the court decides a lethal injection case from Kentucky next spring.
The issue in that case is not the constitutionality of lethal injection as such, but rather a more procedural question: how judges should evaluate claims that the particular combination of drugs used to bring about death causes suffering that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Even without a written opinion, the Supreme Court’s action Tuesday night clarified a situation that had become increasingly confusing as state courts and the lower federal courts, without further guidance from the justices, wrestled with claims from a growing number of death-row inmates that their imminent executions should be put on hold.
I imagine anti-death penalty activists are dancing in the streets tonight at the thought of the Supreme Court denying the states the ability to mete out justice according to their own standards.
We need, after all, the federal government to define each and every standard for states because they are too small, too insignificant, and therefore unable to make such determinations for themselves.
Yet Texas, the state that performs the vast majority of executions in the U.S. is larger than France in terms of area and has a population that’s more than twice as large as Belgium and 50% larger than the Netherlands. All of the generally accepted forms of republican government are followed here and, despite the disdain in which liberal east and west coasters hold the state, 3 of the last 8 presidents were Texans. If the Supreme Court decided to permanently restrain its enthusiasm for interfering in the state’s business Texas would make out just fine.
The only reason that state courts have become “confused” is because of the federales’ meddling and the latest excuse – the perceived need for a nationwide standard of cruel and unusual punishment – even is more contrived than usual. Make no mistake, CaUP is all about obliquely challenging the right of the state to execute murders, nothing more and nothing less.
As far as I’m concerned, arguments about cruel and unusual punishment should be restricted to the punishment phase of murders’ trials. Being murdered, after all, is rather a cruel fate, though not so unusual as it should be. Certainly it’s far cruel than a sanitary medical procedure preceded by a good meal and a chance to make one’s peace with God. The entire discussion is ridiculous.
Yet in a perverse sort of way I hope the SCOTUS does involve itself in the morass. If the high court does take on the CaUP question and/or the death penalty we can at least hope that they will make a definitive ruling on the subject, one that would clear the way for justice to be done without every death penalty case being litigated again and again for the better part of two decades.
There’s not 1 chance in 1000 that the SCOTUS will ban capital punishment nationally. None. Zero. Nada. So let’s have a final ruling on subject already.