In one of its last decisions before the end of its term, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 this week to allow Oklahoma to use the sedative midazolam in its executions. Plaintiffs in the case argued that the drug violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment because it did not work as intended in putting people into a coma-like sleep.
Last year Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio all had problems with executions in which midazolam was used. Missouri does not use midazolam as part of its execution protocol, but it can be administered earlier in the day if the inmate requests a sedative.
In writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito noted that the concerns with midazolam were “speculative” and dismissed the problems some states had with the execution drug. In his separate dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the time had come for the court to debate whether the death penalty itself is constitutional.
While death penalty foes were disappointed in the recent ruling, Justice Breyer’s dissent gives hope for a future challenge to the constitutionality of the entire death penalty system in this country.
Posted: July 2, 2015