The Supreme Court granted a Mississippi inmate a stay of execution last night moments before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, reports the New York Times. It was a nearly indisputable indication that the court intends to block all executions until it decides a lethal injection case from Kentucky next spring. Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.
The stay remains in effect until the full court reviews an appeal filed Monday by lawyers for the inmate, Earl W. Berry, who is on death row for killing a woman 20 years ago. The Kentucky case will be argued in January. The issue in that case is not the constitutionality of lethal injection as such, but rather procedural question of how judges should evaluate claims that the particular combination of drugs used to bring about death causes suffering that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Other courts are likely to interpret the Supreme Court's action as a signal that they should postpone executions in their jurisdictions.