Magazine article The Nation

The Tumbrels Roll

Magazine article The Nation

The Tumbrels Roll

Article excerpt

The Tumbrels Roll

There seems to be no limit to the U.S. Supreme Court's drive to get on with the death penalty. Recently, the Court allowed the State of Texas to kill Doyle Edward Skillern by injection even though the Justices were, and technically still are, weighing the legality of that method of execution.

It's not the first example of the Court's eagerness to get the tumbrels rolling, just the most fiagrant. In December, by a 5-to-4 vote, the Court permitted Georgia to execute a black man even though a lower Federal court had yet to decide whether the state's capital punishment law discriminates against blacks. In a case earlier this month, the Justices did not even insist on a majority vote; splitting 4 to 4, they let Georgia send another man to the electric chair. In neither case did the Court bother to explain itself.

The Court's refusal to block those two electrocutions reflected its tendency to proceed without caution. With Skillern, the Justices' action suggests utter disregard for that simplest notion of fairness in capital cases: a condemned prisoner ought to be entitled to live while a court resolves his legal claims, especially when he is challenging the method of execution about to be inflicted.

It's not that the Court thought Skillern's claims were frivolous. He was one of eight inmates on death row who in 1983 sued to force the Food and Drug Administration to determine if the lethal drugs used in executions caused "agonizingly slow and painful deaths. …

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