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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Texas bought seized execution drugs from India

Texas prison officials in 2015 arranged to buy lethal-injection drugs from a company in India that was busted for selling psychotropic drugs and opioids illegally to people in Europe and the United States, a new report claims.

When that deal fell through, they bought $25,000 worth of execution drugs from another supplier in India, a shipment seized in Houston by U.S. drug enforcers as an illegal importation, according to the report in BuzzFeed News.

BuzzFeed, in a detailed story posted late Thursday, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials notified the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Jan. 8, 2015 that they would be importing a large amount of sodium thiopental, Texas' execution drug, as required by a DEA license the agency holds.

"TDCJ will be importing Thiopental Sodium in 1 gram vials for a total of 500 to 1,000 grams per purchase/importation," a DEA investigative report published with the article shows. "TDCJ will be importing from the following supplier: Provizer Pharma."

Before the sale could be completed, however, Indian drug enforcement authorities raided Provizer Pharma's offices in the city of Surat, arrested five employees and seized an assortment of drugs, many of which are used as "party pills" in the United States,

India's Narcotics Control Bureau called the raid a "significant seizure."

Weeks later, Texas turned to another supplier in India -- identified in leaked DEA documents as Chris Harris -- and that shipment was seized in July 2015 at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport. A second shipment bound for Arizona was seized at the same time.

The seizures came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had warned Texas and its supplier, along with Arizona and Nebraska, that attempts to import the drugs would be illegal and that the shipments would be confiscated, officials earlier confirmed. A federal court at one point blocked its importation.

The BuzzFeed report provides new details about the source of Texas' execution drugs, long a secret that the state has battled in courts to keep out of public view, and of the lengths to which Texas and other states have gone to obtain them.

In recent years, as most companies in the United States and Europe have stopped making the drugs used in U.S. executions or prohibited their sale for lethal use, Texas and other states have had to resort to secondary suppliers where purchases have proven to be much more difficult.

Critics of the death penalty also have questioned whether the quality of those drugs can more easily be compromised, and whether they will kill condemned inmates without pain and suffering -- a key element in whether the use of those drugs could compromise the legal administration of the death penalty.

The Texas-bound executions drugs seized in July 2015 remain in DEA custody. Earlier this month, Texas sued the FDA seeking to release the drugs, accusing the agency of "gross incompetence or willful obstruction," according to court filings.

In its lawsuit, Texas referred to the source of the lethal drugs only as a "foreign distributor."

While the source of Texas' execution drugs used to be publicly available, state officials in recent years have made information about their suppliers a guarded secret as suppliers for the drugs dried up, some driven by pressure from death penalty opponents in the United States and Europe.

Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered the information secret, and state officials have fought since then to keep as many details as possible under wraps, including a threat against the DEA not to identify the supplier in the pending lawsuit over the confiscation.

Texas prison officials declined late Thursday to discuss any details in the BuzzFeed story, other than to say they had "not engaged in any transaction" with Provizer. They declined further comment.

"The story is highly speculative and inaccurate," said TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark, declining to discuss any details.

"TDCJ has a statutory responsibility to carry out court ordered executions in Texas," Clark said. "All drugs used in the lethal injection process are legally purchased and are tested by an independent lab for both potency and purity to ensure they meet national standards."

Source: Houston Chronicle, January 28, 2017

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