While Court Schedules, Texas Executes

The Supreme Court yesterday announced that it will consider whether Kentucky's lethal injection procedure violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishments." The future of the death penalty is not at stake here. But the High Court move cast a legal shadow on the protocols in all 37 states that execute condemned prisoners by injection.

If you were a prison official or state lawyer, you'd probably wait to see what the Justices decide on the matter before proceeding with any more executions, right? After all, you wouldn't want to execute a man by a certain injection procedure only to learn next June that the procedure violates vital constitutional principles, right?

Well, in Texas last night, state officials used lethal injection to execute a man named Michael Richard. "We will go forward with our interpretation of the law," Gov. Rick Perry said. The Supreme Court refused to issue a stay. And another Texas execution is planned for later this week.

Perhaps that's not surprising for a state with a history of defying the Supreme Court over capital cases. And, if the Supreme Court does send states back to the drawing board on lethal injections next spring, there's no guarantee that the Texas courts, or the federal courts in Texas, will heed the call.

But many other states are reconsidering their injection procedures. They're trying to ensure that condemned prisoners get the right doses of medicine, in the right order, at the right time, from professional personnel in dignified and appropriate conditions. In California, for example, state and prison officials are reacting to a federal trial judge's decree. And, in Florida, officials are figuring out what to do after a botched execution last December prompted then-Gov. Jeb Bush to order a statewide halt.

So Supreme Court guidance would be useful here-- whether the Court decides to uphold or strike down the Kentucky protocols. But, if the lower-court opinions are any indication, it may be time to rethink lethal injection procedures. Stripped of its legal pretense, the issue can be framed this way: If we are to have capital punishment in this country, we have to do it right. And there is too much evidence, from too many states, that this simple standard is not being met.

By Andrew Cohen |  September 26, 2007; 8:09 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

First I want to congratulate Anderw, once again he has proven his ability to get large federal institutions moving through his simple blog. He writes that the Supreme Court is lazy and not hearing enough cases with empty spaces on its docket and before the end of the week the Court agrees to hear several critically important cases. I suggest he write a quick blog about the need for shorter, cooler days in the next few months or winter may never come. I note about darkness around 6:30 could result in sundown today as well.

On this quesiton, we have been very sloppy about the machinary and process of death in this county. Both in terms of providing a real and effective appeals process and in the way we drag out the death appeals and execution process. It is demaning and unfair to both the victim's family and the convict to be executed and their family.

The immediate case problem here is that physicians refuse to participate in executions. There was a time when this might have seemed an honorable adherence to the Hippocratic oath, but that oath is long dead. Medical societies that are willing to see doctors perform abortions and supply suicide pills to those who are ready to give up on terminal pain do not really have a moral leg to stand on when asked to execute on behalf of society. If a doctor administered the mix there would be no question about the proper monitoring of the lethal formula and any undue pain.

There is no way that death by injection is cruel and unusual, otherwise what have I been doing to my dogs over the decades?

I believe that most people see this as another camel nose under the tent to eliminate the death penalty, I think it will fail to do that, but the death penalty is always in play in these cases.

The more interesting case the Court took yesterday was the voter ID case. I believe they took the Indiana case where the ID was ruled valid and constitutional rather than one where it has been overturned. This suggests to me the Court is leaning toward declaring the photo-id unconstitional.

Posted by: Constitutionalist | September 26, 2007 11:49 AM

Execution by interpretation, the final reductio ad absurdam of 60's relativism and nihilism.

Posted by: M | September 26, 2007 01:13 PM

Con man--
What HAVE you been doing to your dogs all these years? Not strapping them on the roof, I hope.

(can't remember what the emoticon is for tongue in cheek, but insert it here)

Posted by: Sorry, couldn't resist | September 26, 2007 01:25 PM


I, too, am wondering exactly what have you been doing to your dogs all these years. Please don't answer...I'll assume you've utilized the same methods Michael Vick used. Those methods were once considered quite "humane" as well.

Abortion has nothing to do with execution. Nor does allowing a patient to die by providing _only_ pain management.

Posted by: maddog56 | September 26, 2007 04:31 PM

Something has to be done about Bush's attack dogs.

Posted by: Singing Senator | September 27, 2007 09:26 AM

While Texas executes, murderers ignore all court rulings and kill people by whatever method they please.

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