'Burned Alive': Court Has Heated Debate on Execution

Alito blasts 'guerrilla war' by opponents of death penalty
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 29, 2015 6:30 PM CDT
'Burned Alive': Court Has Heated Debate on Execution
Bottles of the sedative midazolam.   (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

(Newser) – Things got about as nasty as they get in the Supreme Court chambers as the justices today debated the constitutionality of a lethal-injection drug. Samuel Alito, for example, accused opponents of the death penalty of engaging in a "guerrilla war" to stop it, while Elena Kagan likened the execution protocol to being burned alive, reports the Washington Post. At issue specifically is whether the first drug in a three-drug combination used by Oklahoma works well enough—critics say the sedative, midazolam, fails to make the following two drugs painless. Kagan likened the effects of one of those drugs to being "burned alive from the inside" and wondered whether the state would sanction burning at the stake after administering an iffy anesthetic, reports NBC News.

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"Maybe you won't feel it, maybe you will," she said. "We just can't tell." Antonin Scalia, meanwhile, declared that states can't get "100 percent" drugs because death-penalty "abolitionists" are making it impossible with their pressure on manufacturers. The big question, as usual, is where probable swing vote Anthony Kennedy stands. "It seemed clear that he, too, was frustrated with the resistance movement and what it required the Justices to do to examine each state’s approach to executions," writes Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog. Meaning that when the decision is eventually announced, it will probably be bad news for death-row inmates. (The arguments came exactly one year after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma.)

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