The Supreme Court derailed Trump administration plans to resume executing federal prisoners on Monday, refusing to overrule lower-court orders allowing the condemned men to pursue claims that the Justice Department execution protocol violates federal law, the Wall Street Journal reports. The high court sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the Justice Department is appealing a decision blocking executions while the issues are litigated. Three conservative justices suggested they gave little weight to the inmates’ argument. “Three courts have now agreed that the federal government’s new execution protocol must be fully adjudicated before it can be used to carry out executions,” said Shawn Nolan, a federal defender representing one of the condemned men. “The courts have made clear that the government cannot rush executions in order to evade judicial review of the legality and constitutionality of its new execution procedure.”
The Supreme Court order was the latest setback for the administration’s drive to reactivate federal executions in Terre Haute, In., after a 16-year hiatus. On Thursday, a federal judge blocked the government from executing Daniel Lewis Lee, who was scheduled to die on Monday for murdering an Arkansas gun dealer and his family. Friday’s Supreme Court order lets stand a decision by a federal-district judge in Washington, D.C., staying the executions of Lee and three other inmates Attorney General William Barr had selected to die at Terre Haute in December and January. Judge Tanya Chutkan found that government plans to execute its prisoners by the same pentobarbital method likely violated the Federal Death Penalty Act, which requires that prisoners be put to death according to the laws of the state in which they were convicted.