The Supreme Court early Tuesday cleared the way for federal executions to be carried out for the first time since 2003, over objections from death row inmates to the Trump administration’s revised method for carrying out federal death sentences.
The conservative-majority court in an unsigned opinion rejected claims that the lethal injection protocol that the Department of Justice adopted last year amounted to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.
The executions had been scheduled for Monday afternoon, beginning with Daniel Lewis Lee, who was convicted of murdering a family of three in 1996. But a federal judge in Washington blocked the killing just hours before it was to be carried out.
A federal appeals court in Washington hours later declined the Trump administration’s emergency request to reinstate the executions. Then just after 2 a.m. Tuesday, the Supreme Court permitted the executions to proceed under a new protocol using pentobarbital sodium.
The court’s five conservative members — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasLocked and Loaded: Supreme Court is ready for a showdown on the Second Amendment Two conservatives resign from Biden's Supreme Court commission Sotomayor says recent changes were made because male justices interrupted female colleagues MORE, Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoLocked and Loaded: Supreme Court is ready for a showdown on the Second Amendment The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle Sen. Whitehouse blasts Alito speech: 'You have fouled your nest, not us' MORE, Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchLocked and Loaded: Supreme Court is ready for a showdown on the Second Amendment Justices weigh request for information on CIA's post-9/11 torture program Supreme Court declines to hear dispute over DC representation in Congress MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughLocked and Loaded: Supreme Court is ready for a showdown on the Second Amendment Why Latinos need Supreme Court reform Feehery: A Republican Congress is needed to fight left's slide to autocracy MORE — approved the new method.
The majority said vacating the lower court’s decision is warranted because the inmates are unlikely to succeed “on the merits of their Eighth Amendment claim,” which outlaws cruel and unusual punishment and “faces an exceedingly high bar.”
The court’s four more liberal members, Justices Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgCouric defends editing of RBG interview Biden's Supreme Court commission ends not with a bang but a whimper The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE, Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter Supreme Court won't block vaccine mandate for Maine health care workers Breyer: Supreme Court 'fallible,' but has served US 'pretty well' MORE, Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle Sotomayor says recent changes were made because male justices interrupted female colleagues Why Latinos need Supreme Court reform MORE and Elena KaganElena KaganSupreme Court considers Kentucky AG's power to defend abortion restriction Alito bristles over criticism of Supreme Court's 'shadow docket' North Carolina voting rights ruling offers a model of anti-racist jurisprudence MORE, dissented on various grounds.
“This sets a dangerous precedent. The Government is poised to carry out the first federal executions in nearly two decades," Sotomayor wrote in a dissent joined by Ginsburg and Kagan.
"Yet because of the Court’s rush to dispose of this litigation in an emergency posture, there will be no meaningful judicial review of the grave, fact-heavy challenges respondents bring to the way in which the Government plans to execute them,” Sotomayor added.
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.
Attorney General William BarrBill BarrWhy it's time for conservatives to accept the 2020 election results and move on Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ Five takeaways: Report details Trump's election pressure campaign MORE announced last July that federal capital punishment would resume with the use of a single drug, pentobarbital sodium.
--Updated at 7:38 a.m.