On June 29, 2015, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Glossip v. Gross, ruling that the anti-anxiety medication midazolam is constitutional for use as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection formula.
The case was brought by Oklahoma death row prisoners Richard E. Glossip, John M. Grant and Benjamin R. Cole Sr, who argued that the state’s use of midazolam in this manner creates an “objectively intolerable risk of harm.”
In response to the ruling the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) issued the following statements:
OK-CADP Chair, Connie Johnson said, “”The Supreme Court’s ruling allowing the use of midazolam in administering the death penalty is both disappointing and disconcerting. The 5-4 vote was primarily derived using historical references. Depending on what part of history you choose, the death penalty included stoning, hanging, decapitation, burning, gassing, firing squad and any number of cruel and unusual punishments.
The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty applauds Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion in which he stated that it has been nearly 40 years since the Court’s ruling upholding the death penalty. During that period of time, the punishment has changed significantly in the methods used, in the number of states abolishing the death penalty, and in states’ abilities to carry out the sentence in ways that do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as in several recent botched executions.
OK-CADP continues to question the use of midazolam in Oklahoma’s lethal injection cocktail. We strongly agree with Justice Breyer’s conclusion that it is time to revisit the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.
OK-CADP’s upcoming campaign to defeat SQ 766, and keep the Death penalty out of the state constitution, is now more relevant and essential than ever. We will be working in the year leading up to the vote to thoroughly educate Oklahomans about the inordinate cost, ineffectiveness, inherent racial bias, irreversibility and ineptness of this broken system of punishment.”
OK-CADP spokesperson Rev. Adam Leathers said: “We at the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are saddened and deeply concerned about the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision to permit Oklahoma and other states to continue to use midazolam in a three-drug cocktail to murder human beings. This three-drug cocktail is a trinity of evil and is evidence that we as citizens are not only comfortable with our government reserving the right to murder us but they may do so in a grossly experimental and tortuous way. Regardless of the means of execution, the Death Penalty contradicts our State’s commitment to our conservative ideals of limited government authority, fiscal responsibility, and our Christian faith.”
In a press release, Dale Baich, one of the attorneys for the death row prisoners, stated, “Today’s ruling, which allows departments of corrections to use midazolam in lethal injection executions, contradicts the scientific and medical understanding of the drug’s properties. Because the Court declined to require that states follow scientific guidelines in determining their lethal injection procedures, states will be allowed to conduct additional human experimentation when they carry out executions by lethal injection.
As the national media widely reported, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote “a scorching dissent” which said:
“Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment—the chemical equivalent of being burned alive. But under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated.
“By protecting even those convicted of heinous crimes, the Eighth Amendment reaffirms the duty of the government to respect the dignity of all persons.” Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, 560 (2005). Today, however, the Court absolves the State of Oklahoma of this duty. It does so by misconstruing and ignoring the record evidence regarding the constitutional insufficiency of midazolam as a sedative in a three-drug lethal injection cocktail, and by imposing a wholly unprecedented obligation on the condemned inmate to identify an available means for his or her own execution. The contortions necessary to save this particular lethal injection protocol are not worth the price,” Sotomayor wrote.
Baich added, “Despite the Court’s unwillingness to step in on this important issue, and given the substantial risk of harm, litigation surely will continue. We will continue to work in the courts to hold the states accountable in order to try and prevent botched executions in the future.”