Last week, Justice Gorsuch cast his first decisive vote on the Supreme Court. He voted to allow Arkansas to move forward with the execution of one Ledell Lee and several other death row inmates. The Washington Free Beacon reported that Lee “is the first inmate Arkansas has executed since 2005.”
The ruling has been criticized by many on the left. So what exactly happened?
Facts of the Case
In 1993, the State of Arkansas convicted Ledell Lee of the gruesome murder of Debra Reese. Lee was accused of robbing and strangling Reese, and ultimately killing her with a tire iron. Arkansas sentenced Lee to death, but Lee maintained his innocence, and his attorneys were seeking additional DNA testing.
Arkansas sought to execute eight inmates, including Lee, within the span of eleven days. As written by Justice Breyer, who voted in opposition to Arkansas’ actions, the state did not have a proper reason to execute these inmates in such haste:
Apparently the reason the state decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the “use by” date of the state’s execution drug is about to expire. That factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random.
The drug which Breyer is referring to is Midazolam.
A Controversial Drug
Midazolam has been criticized by some as an inhumane way to perform executions. As reported by The Atlantic: “In a high enough dose, [midazolam] should render the patient unconscious—but some experts argue that, unlike sodium thiopental and pentobarbital, midazolam cannot produce the deep, coma-like state needed to guarantee he feels no pain.”
However, there are contradicting reports surrounding the drug’s use in executions. According to the same Atlantic article, “Ohio used midazolam in the execution of Dennis McGuire … and witnesses reported that McGuire snorted, heaved, clenched one of his fists, and gasped for air.” However, Florida officials determined that midazolam was in fact “the most humane and dignified way to do the procedure.”
Despite these issues, The Supreme Court permitted use of the drug in the 2015 case Glossip v. Gross. In Glossip, the Court ruled that the use of this sedative did not violate the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Explaining The Decision
Ultimately, Gorsuch’s decision relied on this precedent. Justices Gorsuch, Thomas, Roberts, Kennedy, and Alito voted to allow Arkansas to move forward with the executions in light of the Glossip ruling.
Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented in an effort to grant at least one of the stay requests.