War Erupts In Supreme Court That Could Change Death Penalty Forever

Written By BlabberBuzz | Source: TheFederalistpapers | Wednesday, 15 May 2019 16:17

The U.S. Supreme Court’s internal divisions over the death penalty were on full display again on Monday in fresh wrangling over how the justices handled recent attempts by two convicted murderers in Alabama and Texas to put off their executions.

In both cases, there are signs that tensions over the death penalty – especially skepticism by the court’s conservative majority over last-minute bids by death row inmates to block executions – are coming to a boil after simmering for years.

In the Alabama case, Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the nine-member court’s five conservatives, wrote a 14-page opinion defending its middle-of-the-night April 12 decision to pave the way for the execution of Christopher Price, 46. The court’s order was released too late for Price’s scheduled execution to be carried out, and he remains on death row.

Minutes later, the court issued a new opinion by conservative Justice Samuel Alito criticizing its March 28 decision to issue a stay of execution for Texas inmate Patrick Murphy after the state had blocked a Buddhist spiritual adviser from accompanying him to the execution chamber.

Thomas, whose opinion was joined by Alito and fellow conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, took aim at liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, a frequent critic of the death penalty. Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion from the Price decision that was joined by the court’s three other liberals.

Price had a weak legal argument, Thomas wrote, meaning “it is difficult to see his litigation strategy as anything other than an attempt to delay his execution. Yet four members of the court would have countenanced his tactics without a shred of legal support.”

The death penalty remains a controversial issue in the United States even as public support for it has declined since the 1990s, according to opinion polls. The number of U.S. executions and the number of people sentenced to death have both declined in recent years. Many other rich nations have stopped using the death penalty.

Thirty of the 50 U.S. states and the federal government have the death penalty on the books but some of those states, including California, have imposed moratoriums. The vast majority of executions are carried out by a handful of states. There were 25 U.S. executions carried out last year.

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Breyer is the court’s most vocal death penalty critic, questioning its constitutionality and arguing that it is imposed arbitrarily and differently in various parts of the country, often with long delays. Breyer wrote last month that if prisoners cannot be executed quickly without violating their rights “it may be that … there simply is no constitutional way to implement the death penalty.”

The court last month reversed two lower court decisions that delayed Price’s execution so he could proceed with his request to be executed by lethal gas instead of lethal injection. The Thomas opinion on Monday was issued as the court rejected Price’s underlying appeal.

Price was convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 in the 1991 killing of William Lynn, a minister, in his home in Bazemore, Alabama.

In the Texas case, Alito said Murphy waited too long to bring his claim and that the court’s action to delay his execution would encourage others to bring similar last-ditch actions. Murphy, a Buddhist, had argued his religious rights under the Constitution were violated by the state.

“This court receives an application to stay virtually every execution; these applications are almost all filed on or shortly after the scheduled execution date; and in the great majority of cases, no good reason for the late filing is apparent,” Alito wrote.

Alito said Murphy’s religious claim might have merit, but prisoners must file such lawsuits “well before their scheduled executions.”

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Texas has already changed its policy. It previously allowed Christians and Muslims to be accompanied by their religious advisers. Now, no religious advisers are let in the execution chamber.

Murphy was serving a 50-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault when he and six other inmates broke out of prison in 2000 and went on a rampage in which a police officer was killed.

A month before its Murphy decision, the court voted 5-4 to allow an Alabama execution to proceed and denied a request by the condemned inmate, a Muslim, for an imam’s presence in the execution chamber. Alito voted to deny both requests.

Gorsuch complained about last-minute execution challenges when the court ruled on April 1 against Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew, who had sought to die by lethal gas rather than lethal injection because of a rare medical condition. Gorsuch said the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment “does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Sen. Harris: Let’s have a ‘conversation’ about packing the Supreme Court

This article was sourced from Hot Air

Earlier today I wrote about far-left proposals that seem in danger of fading away but here’s one that hasn’t. At a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Senatory Kamala Harris said she was open to the idea of packing the court by adding up to four new seats.

From Bloomberg:

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris said Wednesday she’s open to expanding the U.S. Supreme Court, accusing Republicans of creating a “crisis of confidence” in the nation’s highest court.

“I am interesting in having that conversation,” the California senator said in Nashua, New Hampshire, in response to a question about whether she favors adding as many as four seats to the court. “I’m open to this conversation about increasing the number of people on the United States Supreme Court.”

She said she’s also interested in applying term limits to the court and limiting the number of nominees for any particular president.

I find this combination of sentiments confusing. Sen. Harris thinks there’s a “crisis of confidence and packing the court is going to make that better? I don’t think that’s how things would actually work. Adding seats to the court to sway the outcome of cases would reaffirm that the court is just another political branch of government and it would invite additional court-packing the next time a conservative takes office. After all, if 13 justices are good, 17 must be better.

It’s also a bit strange that the Democrats who’ve spent the past two years complaining about Trump destroying all of America’s “norms” seem awfully quiet about this proposal which would be a very significant violation of an important norm.

Of course, hearing Sen. Harris express interest in having a conversation isn’t exactly new for her:

This seems to be her polite way of putting off questions she doesn’t really want to talk about. It’s also a way to avoid taking a firm position on a controversial topic that might hurt her later if she’s seen as insufficiently woke. Perhaps the key point in this story is that Harris didn’t bring this up on her own. She was asked by someone who said the GOP “stole” Gorsuch’s seat on the Court whether she’d consider adding seats and she said she’d be willing to have that conversation.

This is the only video of her comments available at the moment. Audio quality isn’t great but there’s definitely a crowd response to the idea of term limits for Justices. Is she really behind this or just trying to avoid making a commitment?

Abortion foes eye Supreme Court showdown in wake of Alabama ban

This article was sourced from Foxnews

Pro-life lawmakers in Alabama lit a national firestorm this week by approving a near-total ban on abortion and imposing harsh penalties on doctors who perform the procedure. But supporters of the legislation do not expect it to take effect without a fight -- and that's by design.

The bill, known as HB314, criminalizes abortion in nearly every scenario, without any exceptions for cases of rape or incest, regardless of how far along a woman's pregnancy is. By far the most restrictive abortion bill to emerge at the state level in recent months, it was specifically meant to initiate a legal battle that could end up before the Supreme Court -- where a solid conservative majority has emerged during the Trump administration.

"The American people want a fresh debate and a new direction, achieved by consensus and built on love for both mothers and babies. The time is coming for the Supreme Court to let that debate go forward," Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of pro-life organization the Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The bill's sponsor acknowledges the legislation is aimed at sparking a new Supreme Court review of the landmark Roe v. Wade.

"This bill is about challenging Roe v. Wade and protecting the lives of the unborn because an unborn baby is a person who deserves love and protection,” GOP state Rep. Terri Collins, told The Washington Post.

The bill itself would appear to shatter one of the few areas of consensus in the abortion debate -- allowing exceptions in anti-abortion laws for rape and incest, which the Alabama legislation does not. Collins said she feels for rape and incest victims, but had to ensure the bill was restrictive enough to yield a legal challenge in federal court.

Amid condemnation from the other side of the abortion debate, that legal challenge appears to be in the works. Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement that the bill is "unconstitutional," and that his organization, along with the National ACLU and Planned Parenthood, intends to file a lawsuit challenging it, should Gov. Kay Ivey sign it into law.

In the meantime, Marshall pointed out, "This bill will not take effect anytime in the near future, and abortion will remain a safe, legal medical procedure at all clinics in Alabama." The bill itself states that it would not go into effect until six months after it is signed into law. The bill also allows for abortion where the mother faces a serious health risk or when the unborn child has a "lethal anomaly" that would cause it to be stillborn, or die soon after birth.

The legislation quickly became a 2020 campaign issue, as Democratic presidential candidates vowed to fight for abortion rights.

"This is a war on women, and it is time to fight like hell," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., tweeted.

Other states have also taken strong stances against abortion. A week before Alabama's bill was passed, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill that outlaws abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected in the womb. This can happen as early as six weeks into a woman's pregnancy. That law will take effect in 2020. Currently, Georgia allows abortion until 20 weeks.

This was just one example of more than a dozen such heartbeat bills that have been in the works across the country, with four of them already passing in 2019.

Pro-choice organizations are preparing to challenge these laws as well, with concerns about how the current makeup of the Supreme Court might impact protection of abortion going forward.

President Trump's appointment of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh has resulted in a solid conservative majority on the Supreme Court. During Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing, he was grilled about his stance on abortion, but showed deference to Roe v Wade and the later decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, as significant precedent.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, remains concerned about the court's ability to overturn Roe v. Wade. "When women stood up in record numbers to fight Kavanaugh's nomination, propelled by his alarming record and Trump's promise to nominate jurists committed to criminalizing abortion and punishing women, we were told we were 'hysterical' because Roe was settled law," Hogue said in a statement after the Alabama bill passed. "Not six months later, we are battling measures where the stated goal is exactly that: outlawing abortion.

Pro-life activists, meanwhile, are feeling encouraged by the latest developments. Even if challenges to the new bills do not result in Roe v. Wade being overturned outright, they could still chip away at past decisions by allowing restrictions on abortion that previously may have been prohibited.

"Ultimately, we look forward to a day when abortion is unthinkable in our country and the world," said Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action.

This article was sourced from TheFederalistpapers

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