U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS justices are 'unusually antagonistic' in arguments on lethal injection drug

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Justices considering the constitutionality of the lethal injection drug midazolam spent so much time talking on Wednesday that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. gave lawyers additional time to make their arguments.

“To an extent that’s unusual even in this court,” Roberts said to Oklahoma Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick, “you have been listening rather than talking.” He offered extra time to both sides, report the Washington Post and the National Law Journal.

The Post described the arguments as “bruising and at times fierce” as well as “unusually antagonistic.”

Midazolam, the sedative drug in the lethal injection cocktail, has been used in several controversial executions. In April 2014, Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett writhed, kicked and grimaced before he died from a heart attack 43 minutes after the procedure began. Officials have attributed the problems to a poorly placed IV.

In oral arguments Wednesday, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that executions could be carried out painlessly, but the most effective drugs are not available because death penalty opponents pressured drug companies not to sell them. “Is it appropriate for the judiciary to countenance what amounts to a guerrilla war against the death penalty?” he asked.

Justice Elena Kagan, on the other hand, said Oklahoma could not prove that midazolam is effective enough to prevent inmates from the feeling of “being burned alive from the inside” during the lethal injection process.

The case is Glossip v. Gross.

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