The Supreme Court has never held that a method of execution, such as electrocution or firing squad, violates the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment, says the National Law Journal. It is not being asked to hold that lethal injection is an unconstitutional method in a Kentucky case being argued Jan. 7. The justices are being asked to give judges a standard for evaluating challenges to lethal injection protocols.
Death penalty litigators and scholars have had to fight vigorously to get information from the states about how lethal injection is administered. In some places, that information remains under seal. They worry that the high court will not have the full picture of what happens in lethal injection executions. The justices, they say, did not pick the “best” case in terms of a record showing the problems that surround the use of lethal injection even though better cases were before them. “The Supreme Court is only going to be seeing a scintilla of what lethal injection is really about,” said law Prof. Deborah Denno of Fordham University. Denno conducted state surveys of lethal injection procedures in 2001 and 2005. The states, protective of that information in 2001, became increasingly so by 2005 as questions and problems surfaced. Five states still refuse to say what drugs are in their lethal injection protocol. “It troubles me that the Court is not seeing anything near the full record on these cases,” said Denno.