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The Machinery of Death


Another recent Breyer dissent does an excellent job laying out the pure bad faith of the Republican justices when dealing with the death penalty:

At approximately 3:00 a.m. Friday morning, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling that allows the execution of an Alabama death row inmate to move forward, after a lower court had issued a stay of execution. The order itself was only a paragraph, but Justice Stephen Breyer responded with a six-page dissent that provided a glimpse into just how divided the nation’s highest court has become. “Should anyone doubt that death sentences in the United States can be carried out in an arbitrary way,” Justice Breyer wrote, “let that person review the following circumstances as they have been presented to our Court this evening.”

He then went on to describe the flurry of activity that took place on Thursday afternoon. Christopher Price was set to die on April 11 for the 1991 murder of a pastor in Bazemore, Alabama. Price had claimed that Alabama’s lethal injection protocol would cause him pain and suffering, a constitutional violation. The inmate argued that he should instead be executed by nitrogen hypoxia. Hours before his scheduled execution on Thursday, a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama, issued a stay over those claims, giving the state until May 10 to provide evidence against Price’s claim that nitrogen hypoxia would reduce the risk of severe pain.

Alabama immediately appealed the lower court’s decision, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed it. Alabama then appealed to the US Supreme Court, saying that Price failed to sign up for the new method of execution in a timely fashion. But when Price’s death warrant expired at midnight, the high court still hadn’t made a decision. The final decision was issued at around 3:00 a.m. The majority ruled in a short unsigned paragraph that because Price had not brought his claims sooner, they would allow the execution to move forward.

The dissent is worth reading in full; Breyer lays out the Catch-22s created by the Republicans very clearly. There are many tragic missed opportunities in the consolidation of neoconfederate control of the Court, and capital punishment is definitely one of them.

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