Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito split with the court’s conservatives last night, refusing to let Missouri execute a death-row inmate contesting lethal injection, the Associated press reports. In his first case, Alito sided with inmate Michael Taylor, who had won a stay from an appeals court earlier in the evening. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas supported lifting the stay; Alito joined the remaining five justices in turning down Missouri’s last-minute request to allow a midnight execution.
The court’s split vote last night ended a frenzied day of filings. Missouri twice asked the justices to permit the execution, while Taylor’s lawyers filed two more appeals seeking delays. Reporters and witnesses had gathered at the prison awaiting word from the high court on whether to go ahead with the execution. An appeals court will now review Taylor’s claim that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, a claim also used by two Florida death-row inmates that won stays from the Supreme Court in the past week. The court will use one of the cases to clarify how inmates may bring last-minute challenges to the way they will be put to death. Alito was expected to side with prosecutors more often than Sandra Day O’Connor, whom he replaced, but as an appeals court judge, his record in death penalty cases was mixed.