Ripples from Oklahoma

The news from Oklahoma is encouraging: the US Supreme Court has allowed the appeals of three death row inmates regarding the legality of the drug, midazolam, as a sedative in state executions. The decision could impact all death penalty states. The Atlantic points out:

“The Supreme Court has never struck down an existing method of execution as unconstitutional. A ruling that forbids midazolam would reverberate even throughout states that do not use the sedative. No execution chamber in the U.S. currently uses the Baze cocktail[1], and no pharmaceutical company currently provides its key ingredient to American death rows. Even states like Texas, which uses a single-drug protocol with pentobarbital in its lethal injections, could find themselves on unsure constitutional footing.”

So despite its different protocol [2], Mississippi must now be wondering if it can ever legitimately use its own chosen drugs for executions. For supporters of Willie Jerome Manning and his fellow death row inmates, this news is welcome indeed.

The decision in Oklahoma attracted controversy because it came too late for a fourth plaintiff, Charles Warner, who was executed the previous week with his petition undecided, following a court ruling with a majority of only one (5:4).

This must be an unwelcome reminder for Willie of the 5:4 ruling against him that so nearly resulted in his own execution in May 2013. He must surely endorse the views of law professor, Eric M. Freedman, who argues:

“The first needed step is for the Court to stop permitting executions when four Justices object. It should take that step.”

We agree.

[1] ‘The Baze cocktail’ refers to the drug protocol sodium thiopental (a sedative), the paralytic pancuronium bromide (a paralytic), and potassium chloride. This protocol was reviewed and accepted as lawful by the US Supreme Court in 2008.

[2] Mississippi’s current drug protocol is pentobarbital, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

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