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Did Political Pressure Push Oklahoma’s Supreme Court to Lift a Stay of Execution? | The Nation

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Steven Hsieh

Steven Hsieh

Stories that matter. Tips: shsieh@thenation.com.

Did Political Pressure Push Oklahoma’s Supreme Court to Lift a Stay of Execution?

The gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (AP Photo, File)

Amid mounting political pressure from lawmakers and state executives, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that two death row inmates are not entitled to know the source of lethal injection drugs that will be used to execute them.

In a ruling, the state’s high court also lifted a stay of execution for Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner that it had issued just two days prior. The two men are scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 29.

State supreme courts typically take weeks or months to rule on constitutional challenges. Yesterday’s decision took a little over forty-eight hours. The timing of the opinion has raised suspicions that the court was motivated by political pressures.

“I can only conclude that the Supreme Court caved in the face of unconstitutional and uncalled for attacks by the legislature and the governor,” said Madeline Cohen, an attorney representing Mr. Warner.

Governor Mary Fallin issued an executive order Tuesday contesting the Court’s “constitutional authority” to issue a stay of execution, even though the Supreme Court only acted after Oklahoma’s top criminal court denied jurisdiction over the matter. And just hours before the Supreme Court issued its opinion, Republican state Representative Mike Christian introduced a resolution to impeach the five justices who voted in favor of delaying the executions, accusing them of “willful neglect of duty.”

While courts in Missouri and Texas have struck down challenges to execution secrecy statutes, a trial court ruled Oklahoma’s to be unconstitutional, under grounds that the law denied inmates access to the courts. Advocates say transparency over the source lethal drugs is critical to knowing whether they could inflict unnecessary pain, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment. Since European lawmakers stopped selling their drugs for capital punishment purposes, Oklahoma and death penalty states have turned to poorly-regulated compounding pharmacies to procure execution drugs.

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