Justices clear the best way for eighth federal execution this yr

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Tuesday round-up - SCOTUSblog

Posted Fri Nov 20th 2020 12:30 pm by Katie Bart

The Supreme Court on Thursday night allowed the government to proceed with the execution of Orlando Hall, who was the eighth federal inmate killed since the Trump administration resumed federal executions in July. Hall was sentenced to death for his role in the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 16-year-old Lisa René in 1994.

In a one-sentence order, the Supreme Court overturned a district judge’s injunction that temporarily blocked Hall’s execution. Judges Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan disagreed and would have maintained the injunction.

The court also denied three separate urgency motions, filed in the past two days, in which Hall asked the judges to postpone his execution. There was no significant disagreement over the three brief orders that denied these requests.

Shortly after the court’s instructions, Hall was killed in federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. He died at 11:47 p.m., according to local news.

Hall’s case reached the Supreme Court after a series of litigation in the lower courts over the execution, which the government had scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday. On Thursday afternoon, Judge Tanya Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for Columbia District issued an injunction against execution. The restraining order was based on an earlier finding by Chutkan that the government’s method of execution violated federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Law because the government used a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital without a prescription for the drug.

The government immediately appealed Chutkan’s restraining order. The government argued that the prescription requirement in the FDCA does not apply to lethal injection drugs. It was also argued that Hall was not entitled to an injunction based solely on the lack of a prescription.

The Supreme Court joined the government and passed an order shortly before 11 p.m. that overturned Chutkan’s restraining order. The majority did not explain their reasoning, and none of the three judges who noticed their disagreement wrote a statement explaining why.

At the same time, the court denied Hall’s three urgency motions, each of which presented separate legal arguments for postponing his execution.

In one of his petitions, Hall requested a stay of execution so that the court could take up Hall’s allegation that his conviction was marred by racial discrimination. Hall, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury. When selecting the jury, the prosecution met four out of five potential black jurors. (The defense hit the fifth because of their strong views on the death penalty.) The lower courts rejected Hall’s initial appeals on racial discrimination, but Hall argued in the Supreme Court Thursday that he never had the opportunity to come up with any new evidence of discrimination that arose after those callings were exhausted. For example, it was later found that one of the prosecutors in Hall’s case had unlawfully disqualified a jury based on race in Miller-El v Dretke, which the Supreme Court ruled in 2005. The federal government replied Thursday that Hall could have made those arguments months or years ago and that his claims were procedurally precluded by federal law preventing federal prisoners from filing multiple requests for relief.

In a separate motion, Hall asked the judges to grant a stay of execution so that they could verify the validity of Hall’s allegation that the government had violated his rights by not adequately informing him of his execution date. On September 30, the Justice Department scheduled Hall’s execution on November 19 – with 50 days’ notice. Longstanding federal policy had previously guaranteed inmates a notice period of at least 90 days, but the Ministry of Justice shortened the notice period earlier this year. Hall argued that the shortened notice period, coupled with the restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic, prevented his attorneys from properly preparing a grace petition and fully exploring avenues for legal relief, which effectively denied Hall the right to legal assistance. For example, his attorneys said they were unable to conduct the extensive informational and face-to-face interviews necessary to support an appropriate pardon.

Eventually, Hall’s third application for residency challenged the federal government’s execution record for the same reasons that formed the basis for Chutkan’s injunction on Thursday afternoon. Hall was assisted by Brandon Bernard, a federal death row inmate scheduled to be executed on December 10th. Hall and Bernard argued that the execution protocol violated the FDCA because the protocol allowed pentobarbital to be used without a prescription. And they argued that pentobarbital is most likely to cause “severe and unfounded pain” if not combined with a widely used pain reliever drug.

Hall’s case was the first pending execution case involving Judge Amy Coney Barrett since joining the bank in October. Barrett, a devout Catholic, wrote an article in 1998 on the moral and legal dilemma that Catholic judges face in capital cases due to the Church’s opposition to the death penalty. This article raised questions about possible withdrawals from such cases in their confirmation hearings. Barrett cited her full involvement in capital cases as a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia and as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

Hall’s execution is the eighth since the government resumed the death penalty this summer after a 17-year hiatus in federal executions. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, it will be the first time since 1889 that the federal government has carried out an execution between the presidential election and the inauguration of a new president during the ducks era. The government has two more federal executions planned before the end of the year: Lisa Montgomery on December 8th and Bernard on December 10th.

Posted in Halle v. Barr, Barr v. Halle, Halle v. Barr, Hall v. Barr, Hall v. Watson, Special, Capital Cases, Emergencies and Requests

Recommended citation:
Katie Bart, judges pave the way for eighth federal execution this year,
SCOTUSblog (November 20, 2020, 12:30 p.m.), https://www.scotusblog.com/2020/11/justices-clear-the-way-for-eighth-federal-execution-this-year/