High Court's Ruling, Say Critics, Endorses 'Torturing People to Death'

In the most closely-watched death penalty case in years, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled 5-4 (pdf) that Oklahoma can use the controversial and experimental execution drug midazolam that was behind the last year’s horrific killing of 38-year-old man Clayton Lockett—who writhed and groaned for 43 minutes before ultimately succumbing to a heart attack.

The decision not only gives the approval for states to use a killing method that many regard as torture, but it also amounts to an ideological defense of the death penalty itself—however cruel. Writing for the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito stated:

The ruling was slammed by dissenting justices as deeply inhumane.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor—joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan—wrote that the majority decision “leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.”

“[U]nder the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated,” the dissent states.

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