The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in a case challenging the use of lethal injection to execute people. The court’s decision to take the case is an encouraging development in the campaign to abolish the death penalty in the United States, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“The fact that the court has suspended all executions throughout the country as it considers this case signals that at least five of the justices are prepared to reexamine the use of capital punishment,” Lieberman said. “The death penalty is cruel, inhumane and an improper use of government power.”
The case, Baze v. Rees, challenges Kentucky’s use of a three-drug cocktail to kill people. The plaintiffs, death-row inmates, argue that the lethal injection procedure, used in 35 states, violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
“Capital punishment is an affront to civilized society no matter how the government decides to kill people. Lethal injection is touted as a painless way to die, when in fact it often causes excruciating pain. It is no less cruel or barbarous as the electric chair, the gas chamber, the gallows or the guillotine,” Lieberman said.
The NYCLU participated in a series of challenges to the New York death penalty law enacted in 1995. The Court of Appeals declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional in 2004.
Christopher Dunn, the NYCLU’s associate legal director, analyzed the Kentucky case and other death-penalty jurisprudence in a column recently published in the New York Law Journal.