Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The U.S. Supreme Court missed the point again Wednesday when it turned down a challenge to the constitutionality of the lethal injection method of execution used in most states. In a 7-2 ruling made unusual by the writing of seven separate opinions from the nine justices, the court said the injection method was constitutional, even if it was possible that some of the condemned inmates suffered excruciating pain before they died. "The Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions," Chief Justice John Roberts said in the court's main opinion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented. But perhaps the most salient points were raised in a separate opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens that concurred with the judgment. Stevens said the use of one of the drugs in the so-called three-drug cocktail used in most states was unacceptable, since even veterinarians refused to use it, and he had come to the conclusion that the death penalty was not worth the cost to society of imposing it. But Stevens said he was voting with the majority out of respect for precedent. Perhaps if the vote was closer, he would have voted to overturn the death sentence. But why the other justices refuse to nudge the country forward on what is most assuredly a question of morality is hard to understand. There is a reason nearly every other civilized nation has outlawed the death penalty — it's cruel and unusual. Every month or so, we hear about a condemned inmate being exonerated by DNA evidence — can you imagine anything worse than being imprisoned for years and then put death for something you didn't do? The basic law of the United States bans cruel and unusual punishments. What's so difficult about this?