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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Arizona Faces Drug-Expiration Deadline for Executions

Arizona's supply of a crucial lethal injection drug is set to expire as a federal judge decides the fate of a lawsuit that has stopped all executions in the state.

State officials currently can't seek death warrants until a lawsuit against the way it carries out executions is resolved, meaning the state's supply of the sedative midazolam will expire without being used. The state's known supply of midazolam expires on May 31. But law requires Arizona to wait 35 days after obtaining a death warrant before carrying out an execution, meaning it would have had to get the warrant by Tuesday.

A federal judge is deciding on a request by the state to dismiss the lawsuit.

It's unclear whether the state has obtained more midazolam. The state Department of Corrections didn't respond to several calls and emails seeking comment.

The lawsuit was originally filed by a group of death row inmates who said their First Amendment rights were violated by the state's refusal to divulge any information about its supply of lethal drugs and how it gets them. The suit also challenges the use of midazolam, a sedative used in the nearly two-hour death of convicted murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood in July 2014. Wood, convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father, was administered with 15 doses of midazolam and hydromorphone, a pain killer, before dying.

A federal judge in Phoenix is deliberating whether to grant a state motion to dismiss the case. U.S. District Judge Neil Wake heard oral arguments on April 7 and hasn't yet issued a ruling.

Attorneys for the state argue that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of midazolam in in lethal injections and the state abides by national standards to avoid mishaps. Attorneys told Wake earlier this year that its supply of midazolam will expire on May 31 and that it wasn't able to get more.

The sedative is part of the state's execution protocol, which includes the drugs vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Arizona has also tried to obtain sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that has been used in past executions in combination with drugs that paralyze the muscles and stop the heart. The anesthetic currently has no legal uses in the U.S. 

Last summer, the FDA seized a shipment of the drug that Arizona paid $27,000 for. Arizona and other death penalty states have struggled to obtain lethal injection drugs after European companies refused to continue supplying them several years ago.

Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, has said his client's execution was botched and that the state shouldn't use midazolam in its executions. Baich declined to comment on the expiration of the known supply.

Source: Associated Press, April 27, 2016

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