The US Supreme Court on Monday ruled against three prisoners who had brought a case arguing that a controversial lethal injection drug violates the Constitution.
Three Oklahoma prisoners brought the case, arguing the lethal injection drug midazolam violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
On Monday, the court ruled that the three inmates failed to show that they would likely be able to prove their claims that the drug violates the Eighth Amendment.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the 5-4 opinion and was joined by the court’s conservative justices.
“Petitioners failed to establish that any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and available alternative of execution,” Alito wrote.
Midazolam is used to sedate inmates before injecting them with two other drugs, and the petitioners argued that it didn’t consistently put people in a state of deep consciousness before they were killed.
The drug has been involved in three prolonged executions, as The New York Times has noted. In one of those cases, an Oklahoma inmate named Clayton Lockett put his head up and started mumbling 13 minutes after a doctor started the lethal injection process, according to Reuters.
The doctor stopped the execution but Lockett ended up dying of a heart attack a full 40 minutes after his execution began.
Monday’s Supreme Court decision on midazolam comes amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs in the US. During oral arguments in April, conservative justices seemed annoyed by a shortage of drugs that they attributed to America’s death penalty opponents, as The New York Times noted.
“Let’s be honest about what’s going on here,” Justice Samuel Alito reportedly said. “Executions can be carried out painlessly.”
The court’s major swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy, remained largely silent during the arguments, according to The Times.
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