When a Tennessee panel recommended last April that the state abandon the three chemicals used in executions across the U.S. in favor of the single drug usually used in animal euthanasia, the state's corrections commissioner said no, says the New York Times. The move would have simplified executions and eliminated the possibility of excruciating pain, but commissioner George Little said Tennessee should not be “out at the forefront” of a decision with “political ramifications.”
Why have states clung to an execution method with the potential to inflict intense pain when a simpler one is available, the Times asks? When the Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in the Kentucky case that has led to a de facto moratorium on executions, it will mostly be concerned with the question of what standard courts must use to assess the constitutionality of execution methods under the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment. Beyond that is the question of why all 36 states that use lethal injections to execute condemned inmates use a cumbersome combination of three chemicals. The apparent answer is that no state wants to make the first move. Having moved in lock step to adopt the current method, chosen in part because it differed from the one used on animals and masked involuntary movements associated with death, states prefer that someone else, possibly the courts, change the formula first.