In Execution Appeals, ‘Death Clerk’ Is Key to Supreme Court Process


New York Times legal columnist Adam Liptak explains the “unseemly and unsettling spectacle of a last-minute legal scramble in the shadow of the ultimate deadline” when a condemned prisoner seeks a stay of execution. He says the process “may suggest that the Supreme Court does not render considered justice when it is asked to halt an execution.” But it tries. Indeed, the court goes to extraordinary lengths to get ready, and its point person is a staff lawyer named Danny Bickell.

“Cases where there is an execution date,” he said with a sigh, “that's where I come in.” Bickell's formal title is emergency applications clerk, but capital defense lawyers call him the death clerk. In remarks at a conference of lawyers specializing in federal death penalty work last month, Bickell provided a rare inside look at the Supreme Court's oversight of the machinery of death in the United States. It starts with a weekly update, every Monday morning. Bickell said, “I put out a list to the court of all the executions that are scheduled in the country in the next six or seven weeks, and that gets distributed to all of the justices.”

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