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Is lethal injection cruel and unusual punishment?

The Supreme Court issued a stay of execution yesterday for a man on death row in Virginia. Analysts are calling the court’s action a de-facto moratorium on lethal injection, which is the method of execution used in all but one of the states with the death penalty.

The stay of execution comes after the Supreme Court announced in September that it would hear a case about lethal injection during its current session. That case, Baze v. Rees, will take up the question of whether the three-drug process used to execute death row inmates is cruel and unusual punishment. (One of the drugs can cause extreme pain.)

As the SCOTUS blog points out, the court’s actions with regard to the lethal injection question are extraordinary — the court hasn’t taken up the constitutionality of a method of execution since at least 1890.

One court watcher is already speculating that Baze will lead to the court ruling that at least one form of lethal injection is unconstitutional.

Odd fact pulled from that WaPo story linked up top: of the 38 states that have the death penalty, Nebraska is the only one that doesn’t use lethal injection. It uses electrocution.

-Greg Dahlmann

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