Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Trying to end capital punishment

Tony Mauro reports on yesterday's hearing at the Supreme Court on whether Kentucky's method of using a three-drug cocktail to execute prisoners on death row constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Mauro doesn't think that the inmates' case has much chance of succeeding.

The Supreme Court on Monday appeared unconvinced that the lethal-injection procedure used for capital punishment nationwide poses enough risk of pain to inmates that it raises constitutional objections as "cruel and unusual" punishment.

As Justice Scalia said,
"Where does that come from, that you must find the method of execution that causes the least pain....Is that somewhere in our Constitution?"

Even Dahlia Lithwick, no friend to the conservatives on the Court, admits that this case is just a Trojan Horse by opponents of capital punishment to find some way to stop executions.

While there is nothing funny about lethal injection, the dishonesty pervading the debate about it is just this side of hilarious. Both sides engage in the kind of deception usually reserved for conversations with future in-laws, or the sale of used car parts. On one side, you have death-penalty opponents earnestly insisting they aren't against capital punishment; they just want the procedure to be closer to what you might expect if you went in, say, for a nose job. On the other side, you have states like Kentucky solemnly intoning that their lethal injection procedure is a model of up-to-the-moment medical technology, rather than a bad system conjured up on the fly by Oklahoma's medical examiner in 1977, then copied by the various states in a nationwide cut-and-paste extravaganza.

Were we honest about it, we'd all agree that no one really wants more-tender executions. Death-penalty opponents see this as a step toward a permanent ban on capital punishment. And the 38 states that allow capital punishment have largely sloughed off the unseemly administration of executions to prison staff, who have been bungling and hiding it for decades. That's why using the fight over lethal injection as a proxy for the real fight over the death penalty is doomed from the start. No healthy relationship can be based on such ridiculous fibs.

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