Last month, the Supreme Court cleared the way for Alabama to execute Christopher Price, who was on death row for the 1991 murder of minister Bill Lynn. However, the state didn’t execute Price that night: It had called off the execution a few hours earlier because the warrant for Price’s execution was set to expire. Instead, Price was executed last night, just after 7:30 p.m. local time.
In an order issued in the early morning hours on April 12, the justices overturned orders by the lower courts blocking the execution. The Supreme Court’s ruling sparked a sharp dissent from the court’s liberal wing, with Justice Stephen Breyer complaining that the justices should have at least waited to discuss Price’s case at their private conference that day.
The justices continued to spar over Price’s case earlier this month, when they rejected his petition for review. Justice Clarence Thomas (in an opinion joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch) filed a relatively rare statement in which he agreed with the court’s decision not to take Price’s case. Addressing Breyer’s dissent from the previous month, Thomas suggested that Breyer’s proposed rationale for delaying Price’s execution “does not withstand even minimal legal scrutiny” and would “harm victims.”
Price returned to the Supreme Court once more this week. He again asked the justices to block his execution, to allow a trial to go forward on his claim that executing him by lethal injection would violate his constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The court rejected that request without comment, allowing the state to go ahead with Price’s execution last night.
Breyer again dissented from the court’s refusal to put Price’s execution on hold. All three of Breyer’s liberal colleagues – Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – joined the first part of the opinion, in which Breyer explained that he would have allowed Price’s trial to take place next month as scheduled. Only Ginsburg joined the second part of the opinion, in which Breyer lamented that Price’s case “demonstrates once again the unfortunate manner in which death sentences are often—perhaps inevitably—carried out in this country.” As he has in other cases, Breyer suggested that the “Court should reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty in an appropriate case.”
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.