The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of a lethal injection mixture that includes midazolamin, ruling against three Oklahoma death row inmates who claimed the sedative subjected them to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The ruling on Monday will let several executions across the country proceed after being put on hold so the lethal injection question could be answered.
Richard E. Glossip, John M. Grant, and Benjamin R. Cole
brought the case, saying the use of midazolam in lethal injections violated their Eighth Amendment rights because the sedative may lack numbing or pain-relieving qualities.
In a 5-4 vote, the justices determined that the use of midazolam in lethal injections is constitutional because “the prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain, a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the majority opinion, according to CNN
The court also said “the district court did not establish that Oklahoma's use of a massive dose of midazolam in its execution protocol entails a substantial risk of severe pain.”
The ruling, though, let some justices pose the larger question of whether capital punishment is constitutional.
"Rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, according to USA Today
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg supported Breyer’s dissent, as did Justice Sonia Sotomayor who also wrote her own dissent.
“Under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake,” said Sotomayor in her dissent, according to the National Review
The majority, led by Alito, called Sotomayor’s dissent, “outlandish rhetoric.”
"Welcome to Groundhog Day," Justice Antonin Scalia responded, emphasizing that the court had already had these arguments when it deemed the death penalty constitutional in 1976, after placing capital punishment on a legal hiatus in the early 1970s, according to CNN.
In 2014, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Ohio used midazolam in three executions in which prisoners reportedly struggled or expressed pain, reported USA Today. The drug functioned without controversy in 12 other executions.
Charles F. Warner, a fourth plaintiff in the Oklahoma case, was executed in early 2015.
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