The Supreme Court dealt a temporary setback Friday to the Trump administration’s bid to revive the death penalty after a 17-year hiatus, refusing the government’s request to clear the way for four federal executions a lower court judge put on hold.
The high court did not disclose the vote count or its reasoning, as is typical of orders of this nature. However, the justices did instruct the lower courts to speedily process the dispute.
“We expect that the Court of Appeals will render its decision with appropriate dispatch,” Friday’s order reads. Justice Samuel Alito put a finer point on that directive in a statement accompanying the decision, which Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined.
“The Court has expressed the hope that the Court of Appeals will proceed with ‘appropriate dispatch,’ and I see no reason why the Court of Appeals should not be able to decide this case, one way or the other, within the next 60 days,” Alito’s opinion reads. “The question, though important, is straightforward and has already been very ably briefed in considerable detail by both the Solicitor General and by the prisoners’ 17-attorney legal team.”
The Trump administration resumed executions after a near-20 year reprieve in July. Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to use a single-drug pentobarbital lethal injection protocol for capital punishment, which was at issue in the case before the high court.
A provision of the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA) states federal executions must be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state” where the condemned was convicted. Four federal inmates slated for execution said Barr’s order violated that requirement, due to procedural differences between the BOP protocol and the relevant state practices. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., agreed, and put their executions on hold.
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