When the Supreme Court announced on 29th June that it would not hear an appeal by federal death-row inmates challenging the method to be used in their upcoming executions, a long time advocate against capital punishment said the court “abdicated its legal and moral responsibilities.”
“This means that the federal government will likely execute four people” starting in July “using an untested lethal injection protocol during a global pandemic without any real oversight from the Supreme Court,” tweeted Sr Helen Prejean, a Sister of St Joseph of Medaille.
The unsigned three-sentence order from the court said Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have heard the inmates’ appeal.
The inmates had appealed a lower court order allowing the federal government to proceed with executions using a single-drug protocol. The federal executions, which have not taken place since 2003, are set to resume in mid-July.
When Attorney General William Barr announced last year that the federal government was reinstating the federal death penalty, he said the executions would use a single drug instead of a three-drug protocol carried out in most recent federal executions and by several states. This execution method was challenged by some of the federal death-row inmates. Last November, a federal judge said this protocol injection went against the Federal Death Penalty Act.
In April, a federal appeals court lifted a lower court ruling that had prevented the execution of federal death-row inmates.
Three of the executions are scheduled to take place in July and one is scheduled for August. The inmates – Danny Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken and Keith Dwayne Nelson – have been convicted of murder.
After the announcement that the court was not taking up the inmates’ appeal, the Catholic Mobilizing Network, a group that works for an end to the death penalty, tweeted: “The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is ‘inadmissible’ in all cases because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,'” quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Picture: People hold signs during a candlelight prayer vigil on 8th December 2019, held to oppose the Trump administration’s plan to reinstate the federal death penalty. (CNS photo/David Maung).