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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…

Tennessee Supreme Court upholds death penalty

As of January 2017, there were 63 inmates on death row in Tennessee. Executions have been on hold pending a challenge by inmates to the single-dose drug protocol.

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the state's lethal injection protocols, potentially allowing executions to resume in the state.

The unanimous opinion, written by Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, says death row inmates bringing the challenge failed to show that the protocol violates constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment.

The justices have been weighing the case since hearing arguments in October.

Executions in Tennessee have been stayed while the legal challenge was pending. The last execution in the state was in 2009. The ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court, however, may lead to those executions being scheduled again.

More than 30 condemned inmates were involved in the case that alleged Tennessee's single-drug lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional. The procedure calls for the use of compounded pentobarbital. 

The inmates have also argued that Tennessee Department of Correction training was lax and created risk of botched executions.

Lawyers for the inmates argued that they were not required to provide a better alternative to lethal injection and said the protocol created risk of lingering death.

Kelley Henry, a member of the legal team representing the inmates and a supervisory assistant federal public defender in Nashville, promised an appeal. 

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to hear it.

"Tennessee stands alone in requiring a contract with a pharmacist who must agree to violate state and federal drug laws in order to comply with the protocol," she said. "We will be seeking review of this novel protocol in the United States Supreme Court.

Source: The Tennessean, Stacey Barchenger, March 29, 2017

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