Stay of Execution Voting a Haunting Issue
It takes only four votes for the U.S. Supreme Court to accept a case but five to grant a stay of execution, raising the possibility that an inmate can be put to death despite the court’s decision to hear his appeal.
That wasn’t always the practice, Adam Liptak writes in his Sidebar column for the New York Times. The court used to grant stays with only four votes but that changed by 1990.
John G. Roberts Jr. was noncommittal when asked in his confirmation hearings whether he would supply a fifth vote to grant a stay as a courtesy in four-vote cases. But the new chief justice doesn’t seem to have accepted the practice.
In one recent case, four justices voted to stay the execution of Alabama inmate Luther J. Williams, who claimed the state’s lethal injection procedure was unconstitutional. Without a crucial fifth vote, he was executed in August. The court accepted a different challenge to lethal injection a month later.
“They knew they were going to consider the issue and let a man die,” Williams’ lawyer, Joel Sogol, told the newspaper. “May he haunt their nights for the rest of their lives.”