On June 29, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Glossip v. Gross. This case concerned three questions. The first was whether it is constitutional for a state to execute an inmate by administering a three-drug protocol in which a) there is some scientific agreement that the first drug does not sufficiently relieve pain or consistently render a person in a deep state of unconsciousness, and b) there is a substantial risk that administration of the second and third drugs would cause significant pain to a still-conscious prisoner. The second question was whether the plurality stay standard of Baze v. Rees is applicable when states are using a different execution protocol than the one involved in Baze v. Rees. The third question was whether, if a state's protocol for lethal injection will violate the Eighth Amendment, the legal duty to propose a different drug falls upon the prisoner.
In an opinion written by Justice Alito, the Court held by a vote of 5-4 that the prisoners failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the administration of midazolam as the first drug in a three drug execution protocol violates the Eighth Amendment. The Court also held that to prevail on an Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claim, the prisoner is required to prove that the protocol creates a "demonstrated risk" of severe pain and that the risk is substantial relative to available alternatives.
Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas joined the opinion of the Court. Justice Scalia filed a concurring opinion which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion which Justice Scalia joined. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan joined. The judgment of the Tenth Circuit was affirmed.
To discuss the case, we have Kent S. Scheidegger, who is Legal Director & General Counsel at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.