The Trump administration has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to allow federal executions to resume after a lower federal court restricted them.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declined to overturn a decision by a U.S. District Court judge who ruled recently that the Justice Department’s plan to execute four people convicted of murder with lethal injection appeared to violate the Federal Death Penalty Act.
“Plaintiffs have clearly shown that, absent injunctive relief, they will suffer the irreparable harm of being executed under a potentially unlawful procedure before their claims can be fully adjudicated,” Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, an Obama-appointee, wrote in her ruling.
The appeal was filed by Solicitor General Noel Francisco, naming Attorney General William Barr and several other officials, including Bureau of Prisons Asst. Director Nicole English, as applicants in the case.
Francisco argued against the lower court’s belief the Federal Death Penalty Act not only requires the federal government to carry out executions in the same manner as the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed but also that the federal government must comply with all “additional procedural details” of that state’s execution protocols.
“The district court’s holding is meritless. For virtually the entire history of the United States, beginning with the Crimes Act of 1790, federal statutory references to the ‘manner’ of imposing the death penalty have been understood to refer only to the ‘mode of execution,’” Francisco wrote.
“Under the court’s reasoning, a State could effectively veto a federal execution simply by making unavailable state officials or resources that are required by state law for the execution. Even an otherwise-cooperative State could prevent a federal execution by declining to disclose certain execution procedures or drug sources,” he added.
Francisco said the pending executions of the four murderers, each of whom killed at least one child, should be carried out in a timely manner.
He also argued that plaintiffs’ claims that being executed with the pentobarbital injection makes no sense because the lethal cocktail mix used by some states has been acknowledged as causing more pain.
“The balance of equities thus militates strongly in favor of setting aside the order below and allowing the executions to proceed as scheduled, as this Court has summarily done on other occasions when lower courts unjustifiably enjoined or stayed executions,” he said.
In a statement, Barr added, “Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President.
“Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding,” he added.
“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law—and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”
The federal government has not executed anyone in 16 years.