The Supreme Court & The Death Penalty

by Molly Kenney

The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of an inmate in Mississippi last week, another in a series of stays since the Court agreed in September to consider the constitutionality of lethal injection. In that September announcement, according to the BBC, the Court accepted the case of Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling, Jr., two inmates in Kentucky, whose attorneys argue that lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment outlawed under the Eighth Amendment. The case won’t be heard until next year, but the Court has been staying all executions, save one in Texas, since taking the case of Baze and Bowling.

This Court is putting executions on hold?

Thirty-seven of the 38 states with the death penalty use lethal injection, the outlier being Nebraska and its electric chair. Critics of the death penalty and the lethal injection method argue that the sedative injected first disguises outward effects of the two following injections, which paralyze the muscles and stop the heart, respectively. These two injections, as some doctors have claimed, cause the inmate immense pain during the last minutes of life. However, lethal injection is now the most socially accepted form of execution, unless the Supreme Court changes things.

It’s hard to believe that such a conservative Court, which poses a huge threat to Roe v. Wade, would have doubts about killing evil monsters, as tough-on-crime conservatives affectionately call them. But clearly there’s enough doubt behind the big bench that the Court wants the debate heard. Only Justice Antonin Scalia — who is Strom-Thurmond-was-my-homeboy conservative — and sometimes Justice Samuel Alito have objected to the stays of execution, but the rest of the crowd wants this issue heard before anyone else is put to death.

The Court’s decision to hear the case could be setting the scene for the end of capital punishment in the United States. If the Court were to rule that lethal injection is unconstitutional, it would be invalidating the death penalty in 37 states, and it seems unlikely that all 37 states would return to what’s regarded as draconian and fairly inhumane. Of course, such a decision would not affect Nebraska. This is a pretty progressive turn for the Republicans’ pet court. Let’s hope this trend stays alive.

(Photo by David Paul Ohmer of Cincinnati, OH via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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Anonymous said...

I have never understood why conservatives who are anti abortion can rationalise that the death penalty is OK. If killing human life in the embryo is wrong, so is killing it post embryo.

Some rationalise by a fairly large leap of logic from bible passages, that God has delegated killing to humans if they are revenge killings. I don't buy it. The words "thou shalt not kill" are pretty straightforward to me. Some on the Christain right claim that God distinguishes between killing and murder but any decent bible scholar would point out that Jesus' disciples did not speak english and that human translations of the "word of God" over the last 2000 years have surely injected political belief into His word.

In any case, even if you don't accept my argument that God does not approve any form of killing, any reasonable hman should accept that even one jury in 1,000 might get it wrong, then you must accept that one person in 1000 is unjustly executed. Just curious in the mind of those who support government killing, do you believe that if jury wrongly sends someone onto death, then the members of that jury will burn in hell for eternity in the afterlife....?

No other western nation has a legalised death penalty. Wake up America. Killing is killing

mkenney said...

I completely agree and have always found it interesting that conservatives are willing to play God, dictating life and death and judging so harshly the moral transgressions of the American flock (often not noticing the beams in their own eyes, I might add). That's why I think it's so fascinating that a conservative Court would pause from their smiting of wrongdoers and consider this issue with seriousness. I applaud their willingness to hear the case, and I hope that the case for the abolition of the death penalty is persuasively argued before them.

Jeff Siegel said...

Do not get your your hopes up. This is not about the court declaring the death penalty unconstitutional. This is about the court clearing away any constitutional objections to the death penalty. It will hear the case next year, and by 7-2 or 6-3, declare that lethal injections are just fine.

Then it will look for the perfect case to overturn Roe.

mkenney said...

That may be true, and I am not naive enough to think that anything progressive will simply sail by with this Court. However, the constitutionality of the death penalty has been established and re-established by several case precedents--this case isn't necessary to reinforce it. The death penalty isn't a major campaign issue and there hasn't been a resurgence of abolition efforts recently. This issue is really only on the Court's plate at the moment, and they put it there. By taking the case, they have indicated that there is a constitutional question worth asking and are bringing the issue into public debate. Such negativity isn't necessary; positive things have come from this situation already, in the form of stays of execution and the issue's reintroduction into the public debate.

Anonymous said...

There was an interesting article in the Herald Tribune today written by Mark Essig that says in 14 paragraphs exactly what Jeff said in his previous post in two lines. In any case, the Essig article is worth reading

it's great that the conservative supreme court is hearing this case and in effect their last decision has put a sort of moratorium on death penalties. But in the end, all that will happen in the best case is American Government sanctioned killing will pass from one form of lethal injection to some other form. in the worst case they'll say hey lethal injections are wonderful

Ironically the one sure fire method that seems to be easy on the killee, is the guillotine. But they say that's too gruesome for those watching......

Brittany said...

For the abortion part, the child deserved nothing to die. If its a 'knockup' its the parent's fault. The child should live and abortion should be the option.

The death penalty for the ones that commit a crime and killing someone. They deserve it, any race, any gender deserves the death penalty if they kill another one.

God said "thou shalt not kill," but God didn't say "allow the murders to live free." They have punishment, and possibly it'll convince them they need Jesus.

If they didn't deserve to die, God will give a sign. Cruel and Usual punishment is the holocaust.

To anonymous - if they are "wrongly sent to death," God will know.

Killing is Killing can be true, but it isn't. There's different reason for killing.

Revenge and Justice.

They wanted Revenge and we give them Justice.

I'm pretty sure if your daughter was raped you'd want that rapist killed.

I'm pretty sure if your daughter was murdered, or kidnapped, you'd want that person to suffer.

Justice will be served.

Rick Rockwell said...

Just so you know, Molly Kenney no longer blogs here, so it is unlikely she will be able to respond to your comment. However, thanks for leaving it. This debate certainly hasn't been decided.

I am not sure you answer the question about how state-sanctioned killing is absolved by religion or morals. I'm guessing there are folks in the Vatican who would disagree, as this seems like Old Testament reasoning.

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