WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday declined to prevent the Trump administration from resuming executions of federal prisoners who have exhausted their death penalty appeals.
By order of Attorney General William Barr, the Bureau of Prisons scheduled four executions beginning July 13. They were originally scheduled for last year, but a federal judge suspended the plan. A federal appeals court lifted that ban, and now the Supreme Court has refused to delay them further.
Barr’s order ordered prison officials to begin making the first lethal injections into the federal system in 17 years. Court fights over the traditional three-drug method and a shortage of one of those drugs had stopped federal executions. Barr ordered the use instead of a single drug: a powerful sedative.
In response to an inmate lawsuit, a federal judge ruled last year that Barr’s order violated a law requiring federal executions to be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed. ” Because states use the three-drug method, the judge said, Barr’s order was invalid.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the decision and held that the law requires that the federal government only use the same general method of enforcement, not that it follow the precise rules for carrying it out. Lawyers for three of the inmates scheduled for execution appealed to the Supreme Court and asked the judges to suspend the Bureau of Prisons plan until the judges decided whether to deal with the case.
Prison officials scheduled the July 13 execution for Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist who murdered a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl, by tying stones and throwing them at Bayou in Illinois. The other three prisoners on death row were also convicted of particularly brutal murders involving children.
The Justice Department urged the Supreme Court not to impose a delay and refuse to accept the appeal, which it said would further delay scheduled executions for several more months. Attorney General Noel Francisco said the court should deny “their claim that they should be allowed to continue litigating for another year or more in hopes of dictating the precise details of their deaths, an opportunity denied to victims of their crimes.” .