U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court won't hear challenge to new federal death penalty procedure

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needle and syringe

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The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to the federal government’s new lethal injection procedure.

The court rejected cert Monday in an appeal by four death-row inmates. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have heard the case, Bourgeois v. Barr.

The court’s refusal to hear the case could allow federal executions to resume as early as July, the Washington Post reports. The last time the federal government carried out an execution was in 2003.

The plan, announced by U.S. Attorney General William Barr in July 2019, calls for replacing a lethal three-drug cocktail with a single drug—pentobarbital.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan had enjoined the federal plan in a November 2019 decision. Chutkan said the single-drug plan protocol conflicted with the Federal Death Penalty Act, which requires the federal government to follow the manner of execution used by state in which the sentence is imposed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit lifted Chutkan’s injunction in April.

One of the judges in the D.C. Circuit majority, Gregory Katsas, said the federal law requires the federal government to use the same “top-line choice among execution methods” used by states, such as the choice to use lethal injection instead of hanging or electrocution.

The second judge in the D.C. Circuit majority, Neomi Rao, said the federal law does require the federal government to follow execution procedures in state statutes and regulations. She viewed the federal government’s protocol as nonbinding, however, which would allow for a “carveout” to conform to state law when there are differences.

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