The Supreme Court ruled Monday (April 1) that a painless execution was not guaranteed under the United States Constitution, which means Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew’s potential suffocation due to a severe condition as a result of the lethal injection, is legal.
According to the Los Angeles Times a 5-4 vote rejected Bucklew’s claim that to receive the lethal injection would be a form of cruel and unusual punishment, and that the state would have to find another way to execute him.
The case split the judges down the middle.
The court’s conservatives said that after 18 years on death row, Bucklew’s allegation was a last ditch hail marry to halt the execution for more years. Bucklew reportedly waited a little less than two weeks before his execution to file a suit.
“The people of Missouri, the surviving victims of Mr. Bucklew’s crimes and others like them deserve better,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote in Bucklew vs. Precythe. “Under our Constitution, the question of capital punishment belongs to the people and their representatives, not the courts, to resolve.”
However, Justice Sonia Sotomayor challenged that a painful execution may set a dangerous precedent.
“There are higher values than ensuring executions run on time,” she wrote in one of two dissents filed by liberals. “If a death sentence or the manner in which it is carried out violates the Constitution, that stain can never come out.”
In 1996, after Bucklew’s girlfriend tried to end their relationship he went on a violent rampage. When she escaped to a neighbor’s house he shot and killed the neighbor and then beat the woman with a gun and raped her. Reportedly, after a shootout with the police, he escaped from jail and only to beat his girlfriend’s mother with a hammer.