Appeals court rejects request to rehear challenge to federal execution

Appeals court rejects request to rehear challenge to federal execution
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A federal appeals court on Friday denied the request of a group of death row inmates to rehear their challenge to the Trump administration's plan to resume federal death sentences under a new execution protocol.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would not revisit the case after a three-judge panel last month upheld the Department of Justice's new nationwide federal execution regulations.

The panel had ruled 2-1 in favor of the Trump administration, with two Trump-appointed judges carrying the majority. In a brief note attached to the decision not to rehear the case Friday, D.C. Circuit Judge David Tatel, a Clinton appointee, said he would have called for granting the prisoners' petition if not for the Supreme Court's directive to expedite the case.

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The Supreme Court in December had rejected the administration's request to immediately lift a stay on federal executions while a legal challenge played out in the D.C. Circuit, but a trio of conservative justices urged the appeals court to act quickly.

"The Court has expressed the hope that the Court of Appeals will proceed with 'appropriate dispatch,' and I see no reason why the Court of Appeals should not be able to decide this case, one way or the other, within the next 60 days," Justice Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoHow religious liberty was distorted in the age of COVID-19 Supreme Court weighs religious accommodations during executions Supreme Court seems wary of NY gun limits MORE said in an opinion that was joined by Justices Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchHow religious liberty was distorted in the age of COVID-19 Federal judge in Texas rules in favor of religious businesses over LGBTQ discrimination claims Will Supreme Court allow constitutional oversight to be outmaneuvered by Texas abortion law? MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Race is not central to Rittenhouse case — but the media shout it anyway GOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MORE.

It's likely that the case will now return to the Supreme Court for a review of whether the new execution regulations comply with federal death sentencing laws.

Cate Stetson, an attorney for the inmates, said in a statement Friday that the “prisoners’ challenge to the government’s flawed execution protocol will continue."

"The Court of Appeals’ fractured decision leaves many questions about the legality of the government’s execution protocol unresolved," she said. "We will be actively assessing all available avenues to ensure that no federal executions take place until the courts have had an opportunity to review all outstanding issues.”

Last month, lawyers representing the four death row inmates urged the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case.

"In its haste to uphold the Protocol, the panel majority disregarded foundational principles of statutory interpretation, administrative law, and judicial review," the lawyers wrote in a brief. "These errors are troubling in their own right, as they could affect a wide range of this Court’s administrative-law cases. But the consequences here are far more imminent and grave. The panel’s decision will allow the Government to execute scores of federal inmates pursuant to an unlawful protocol."

--Updated at 11:59 a.m.