More than a dozen states on Wednesday filed a brief to the Supreme Court expressing support for the Trump administration’s push to resume federal executions.
The filing by 14 states, which each permit capital punishment, came a day after the Trump administration asked the justices to authorize the U.S. government to carry out four death sentences.
The executions, which were schedule to occur over the coming weeks, were put on hold last month when a federal trial judge ruled that a separate legal challenge to the Trump administration’s new lethal injection protocol should have a chance to play out in court.
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., on Monday affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The next day the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to lift the stay.
The states backing the administration’s efforts are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.
The federal executions at issue went dormant during the Obama administration amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs involved in the three-drug “cocktail.”
In July, Attorney General William Barr announced that the executions would resume under a new lethal injection protocol that utilizes a single drug, pentobarbital sodium.
The death row inmates sued, arguing that their executions should be halted on the grounds that the new drug protocol was unlawful. They said the federal government violated a 1994 law, the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA). That law says that the state where a capital crime was committed should determine the method of execution, not the federal government.
In her Nov. 20 opinion, Judge Tanya Chutkan, of the district court in D.C., sided with the inmates and agreed to temporarily suspend their executions.
Chutkan, an Obama-appointee, said the federal government likely exceeded its authority by implementing a single uniform method of execution, rather than follow the state-by-state approach under the FDPA.
“There is no statute that gives the (federal government) the authority to establish a single implementation procedure for all federal executions,” she wrote. “To the contrary, Congress, through the FDPA, expressly reserved those decisions for the states of conviction.”
In the states’ filing to the Supreme Court, they noted that five of the states on the brief — Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri and Texas — had effectively used pentobarbital by itself to carry out executions, as the Trump administration seeks to do.
They told the high court that the U.S. government’s proposed method is “a tried-and-true protocol that does not threaten substantial pain,” nor does it raise concerns about cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited under the Eighth Amendment, they said.
In urging the justices to lift the stay, the states said permitting the executions to go forward would promote their “interest in the finality of lawful capital sentences.”
“Finality in criminal sentences is essential to promote the rule of law and to protect victims of capital offenses from further harm,” the states wrote.
Updated at 1:26 p.m.