January 23, 2015

The video above is a report from Rachel Maddow in July about Oklahoma's botched execution by lethal injection. It's horrifying and inhumane.

Today, the Supreme Court agreed to consider the question of whether lethal injections are cruel and unusual treatment. It's about time.

The justices agreed Friday to consider a case originally brought by four death-row inmates in Oklahoma -- one of whom was put to death last week, after the court refused to block his execution with a combination of three drugs that has caused some prisoners to writhe in pain.


The court's four liberal justices -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- voiced deep concern about the three-drug protocol in trying to block Warner's execution last week. They also dissented last September when the court rejected a stay application from a Missouri inmate executed with the same drug.

"The questions before us are especially important now, given states' increasing reliance on new and scientifically untested methods of execution," Sotomayor wrote. "Petitioners have committed horrific crimes and should be punished. But the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death."

Then, tellingly, she added, "I hope that our failure to act today does not portend our unwillingness to consider these questions."

The number of executions in the USA peaked at 98 in 1999, then dropped to 35 by last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Four prisoners have been executed so far this year.

Although the death penalty remains on the books in 36 states, a half dozen of them account for nearly all the recent executions in the United States: Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona and Ohio. Texas and Missouri do not use midazolam.

I wish they'd just reconsider the death penalty altogether. It's a stain on our society and our country. Still, I'll settle for them looking more carefully at this question.

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