The US Supreme Court has ruled that Oklahoma’s use of a lethal injection cocktail is protected by the Constitution in a 5-4 decision today. This means the state will continue killing Death Row inmates using the controversial anaesthetic midazolam.
Midazolam was involved in three botched executions last year, including the killing of Clayton Lockett, who remained conscious after his midazolam dose, writhing around in pain for over 40 minutes. The prisoners who petitioned the Supreme Court in Glossip v. Gross argued that the use of midazolam violates the Eighth Amendment, since the pain and suffering felt by prisoners during these grisly executions would fall under “cruel and unusual punishment.”
In a majority opinion, Justice Alito argues that the prisoners failed to prove that midazolam was ineffective, and that because the death penalty is constitutional, there must be a constitutional way to carry it out. Oklahoma started using midazolam after drug manufacturers stopped selling original lethal injection ingredient sodium thiopental to the state for executions.
Alito also argues that the Eighth Amendment does not mean that punishment needs to be completely devoid of pain. “After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune,” he writes. “Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.”
As the Supreme Court prepared to hear the case, one of Oklahoma’s expert witnesses was called out for relying on Drugs.com as a research tool. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticised the expert witness for using the methods of a college freshman pulling a term paper from his arse at 4am.
And since it may not block out the horrific pain caused by the other drugs in the lethal injection, Sotomayor had a particularly visceral way to describe the drug: It’s “the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.”