Supreme Court declines challenge to DOJ execution method

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a challenge by several death row inmates to the Trump administration’s revised approach to federal executions.

Four inmates, most of whom are scheduled to be killed next month, argued that a lethal injection protocol that the Department of Justice adopted last year violates federal law.

Two of the court's more liberal justices, Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgCourt watchers buzz about Breyer's possible retirement Five hot-button issues Biden didn't mention in his address to Congress Schumer waiting for recommendation on Supreme Court expansion MORE and Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorCourt watchers buzz about Breyer's possible retirement Sotomayor blasts Kavanaugh's decision on juvenile life sentences Supreme Court rejects challenge to juvenile life sentences MORE, indicated they would have taken up the case. But the court's denial of a review means fewer than four justices signed on to hear the dispute.


Attorney General William BarrBill BarrThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Judge's decision on Barr memo puts spotlight on secretive DOJ office Trump allies launching nonprofit focused on voter fraud MORE earlier this month scheduled the executions to take place in July and August.

Ruth Friedman, an attorney for Daniel Lee, one of the four inmates, slammed the court for not taking up the case.

"The federal death penalty is arbitrary, racially-biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science," Friedman, director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, said in a statement. "Given the unfairness built into the federal death penalty system and the many unanswered questions about both the cases of the men scheduled to die and the government’s new execution protocol, there must be appropriate court review before the government can proceed with any execution.”

A federal execution has not been carried out since 2003, due in part to a widespread shortage during the Obama administration of lethal injection drugs in the so-called three-drug cocktail.

Barr announced last July that federal capital punishment would resume with the use of a single drug, pentobarbital sodium.

At issue was whether the Trump administration’s drug protocol violates the Federal Death Penalty Act, which says that the state where a capital crime was committed should determine the method of execution.

In April, the D.C. Circuit panel ruled 2-1 in favor of a Trump administration plan to resume federal death sentences under a new lethal injection protocol, prompting the inmates’ unsuccessful petition to the Supreme Court.

Updated at 10:07 a.m.