Monday, January 7, 2008
Killing us softly
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared divided on ideological lines today when the justices heard arguments in a Kentucky appeal challenging the constitutionality of the lethal injection method of execution. An attorney for two inmates on death row contend the three-drug combination used in nearly all executions in the United States can cause excruciating pain when the first drug does not render the condemned person totally unconscious. In those cases, application of the second drug, a paralytic agent, is extremely painful and leaves the inmate unable to say anything. Attorneys for Kentucky and for the Bush administration, which is defending the execution method, argued that it will result in painless death if properly administered. Conservative justices Antonin Scalia and John Roberts, the chief justice, seemed skeptical of the inmates' contentions while more-liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens appeared sympathetic to the inmates' arguments, according to the Reuters international news service. The case, which has temporarily halted all executions in the 36 states that allow them, is the first time the Supreme Court has heard oral argument on the legality of a specific method of execution since it upheld the use of firing squads in 1879.