The Supreme Court has upheld a drug used in Oklahoma executions, dismissing the claim of three death-row inmates that it causes excruciating pain.
Basically, the majority of the Supremes said the inmates should’ve come up with an alternative drug – which Justice Sonia Sotomayor thought was nutty.
“Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment — the chemical equivalent of being burned alive,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “But under the court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam (the drug in question), or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death or actually burned at the stake.”
It seems almost oxymoronic, doesn’t it – a pleasant form of execution. Throughout history, people have been coming up with means of execution – crucifixion, beheading, the electric chair, among them – that were supposed to be less painful than previous methods. But can there be a good way to be executed?
Indeed, in a 40-page dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seemed to suggest that the death penalty may itself be unconstitutional, violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Breyer went the whole nine yards, pointing out how the death penalty swims against the international tide; is often applied arbitrarily and with prejudice; is not an effective deterrent, given that it takes years to execute someone and, even then, the wrong person is often executed. (Since 1973, 150 people sentenced to death have been exonerated.)
Here, however, is the main thing: The death penalty holds all of us hostage and makes all of us murderers since the inmate is executed by the state, and the state is us.
So it’s not about drugs or methods or the criminal or the victim. It’s about you and me.
And the vengeful mob cloaking its bloodlust in piety like something out of Shirley Jackson’s chilling short story “The Lottery” or one of those biblical movies.
The death penalty has sent plenty to the grave, but it’s never brought anyone back.
I say death to it.