U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS refuses to interfere with temporary halt to federal executions

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The U.S. Supreme Court refused Friday to lift a preliminary injunction blocking four federal executions during a review of the lethal injection procedure adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The court said it expected that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit would issue a decision “with appropriate dispatch.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. issued a statement saying the government has shown it is “very likely to prevail” when the case is decided on the merits, but it is preferable to keep the injunction in place during the litigation “in light of what is at stake.”

Alito’s statement was joined by Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. The New York Times and SCOTUSblog have coverage, while How Appealing links to additional stories.

Lawyers for the inmates had argued that the plan to use a single injection drug, pentobarbital, conflicted with a federal law governing executions.

The inmate lawyers argued that the federal law requires the government to follow the lethal injection protocol used by the state where the sentence is imposed. The government countered that the law requires the DOJ to look to the state when deciding whether death is carried out by lethal injection or a different method, but it does not have to follow state protocols when deciding additional details.

The law at issue says U.S. marshals must supervise federal death sentences “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed.” In states without the death penalty, courts may designate another state as the guide, the law says.

Alito said he thought the case could be quickly decided, and he saw no reason why a federal appeals court couldn’t produce a decision within 60 days. As a result, he said, he would keep the injunction in place for 60 days, with the ability to renew a stay application at that time.

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