The Supreme Court’s orders in recent death penalty cases have been brief, cryptic and even contradictory. But after Tuesday night’s action stopping a Mississippi prisoner’s execution, their consequences seem clear.
Imposition of the death penalty is unlikely to resume until next year, after the justices hear the Kentucky case of Baze v. Rees and rule on the constitutionality of the lethal injections. Most of the 38 states that permit capital punishment use that method.
“The court is sending signals that make it extraordinarily unlikely that there will be any executions before Baze comes out,” said Deborah Denno, a Fordham University law professor.
“I think this is unprecedented,” added Denno, an expert on lethal injection issues, referring to the court’s decision to review a method of execution for the first time in more than a century and the far-reaching consequences of its orders prior to hearing the case.
“It sure looks like that until they decide this issue, they don’t want to see any more executions,” said Georgetown University criminal law professor Randy Barnett.