After the federal government announced that it plans to resume executions in July after a pause of nearly 20 years, the Supreme Court today put the dispute over the lethal-injection protocol that the government plans to use in those executions on a fast track. In an order issued this afternoon, the justices instructed the federal government to file its brief opposing the inmates’ petition for review tomorrow, with the inmates’ reply brief to follow on Monday, June 22. This briefing schedule, which was suggested by the inmates in a motion yesterday, would allow the justices to rule on the petition before their summer recess.
In their petition for review, the inmates asked the justices to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that upheld new federal regulations for carrying out the death penalty. The D.C. Circuit’s decision, issued in early April, overturned a ruling by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who held that federal law requires the government to carry out executions using exactly the same protocol as the state in which the execution takes place. After the full D.C. Circuit declined to weigh in, the inmates filed their petition for review earlier this month, followed by a request to put the D.C. Circuit’s ruling on hold.
On Monday, the Department of Justice announced that Attorney General William Barr had directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for four inmates, three of whom are petitioners in the case now before the Supreme Court: Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Hanken and Keith Nelson, whose executions are scheduled for July 13, July 15, July 17 and August 28, respectively. That announcement prompted the inmates to ask the justices to expedite consideration of their petition; the court granted their motion today.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.