Conservative Supreme Court justices overruled lower courts in a middle-of-the-night order and said an Alabama execution could proceed, over the objections of liberal colleagues who wanted to discuss the case Friday morning, the Washington Post reports. The order came too late for the state to carry out the execution of Christopher Lee Price. Alabama will have to ask a state court to set another execution date. The 5-to-4 ruling indicated that the high court’s conservative majority is far less likely to agree to last-minute stay requests from those facing execution. “What is at stake in this case is the right of a condemned inmate not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” wrote dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer. He added, “To proceed in this matter in the middle of the night without giving all members of the court the opportunity for discussion [Friday] morning is, I believe, unfortunate.”
Price, sentenced to death for his role in murdering a minister in 1991 with a sword and a dagger, was asking to be executed by inhaling nitrogen gas, a process called nitrogen hypoxia, rather than risk a “botched” execution by injection. The Supreme Court majority said Price had missed his chance. The court’s conservatives said that, in June 2018, death-row inmates in Alabama were given 30 days to elect nitrogen hypoxia. While 48 inmates did so, Price did not. “He then waited until February 2019 to file this action and submitted additional evidence today, a few hours before his scheduled execution time,” said the majority order. The number of executions nationwide has dropped significantly. There were 25 death sentences carried out last year, down from 98 in 1999. So far this year, three executions have been carried out — two in Texas and one in Alabama — down from seven at the same point in 2018.