Death penalty: When pain isn’t ‘superadded’
The Supreme Court just gave Missouri “the go-ahead” to execute a man “in one of the most torturous and cruel ways possible,” said Jill Filipovic in CNN.com. Convicted murderer Russell Bucklew has a rare medical condition that leaves his body, neck, and throat riddled with blood-filled tumors; his lawyers say that a lethal injection could cause the tumors to rupture and Bucklew to “convulse, choke, and eventually suffocate on his own blood.” They asked that he be executed by nitrogen gas instead. Writing last week for the conservative majority in a 5-4 ruling, Justice Neil Gorsuch refused Bucklew’s request and threw out 60 years of precedent that executions must meet “civilized standards.” The majority ruled that the possibly gruesome nature of Bucklew’s death is irrelevant, said Mark Stern in Slate.com. Gorsuch wrote that any method of execution is legal unless it “cruelly superadds pain.” He sarcastically added that a painless death “isn’t guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes.”
Bucklew’s claim was “meritless,” said Paul Cassell in Reason.com. He committed murder and rape in 1996, yet has held off execution with “lawsuit after lawsuit.” Justice must be administered “fairly” but also “expeditiously,” because the victims of crimes “are harmed by unjustifiable delays.” Liberals want the Supreme Court to abolish all capital punishment as “cruel and unusual,” said Kevin Williamson in NationalReview.com. Yet the Constitution “categorically sanctions” the death penalty, stating in the Fifth Amendment that a person may be “deprived of life.” If Democrats want to ban the death penalty, they need to do so through the democratic process, by passing legislation in Congress or the states.
One day, historians will be repelled by this decision, said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com. Gorsuch filled his opinion with horrific descriptions of Bucklew’s crimes, in order to portray him as “a monster” not deserving pity. Then in “the bloodless language of legalese,” he went on to discuss the pain imposed by various methods of execution used over the centuries—including hanging, firing squads, and gas chambers. Rather than challenge every method of execution, the liberal justices should simply argue that state-sanctioned killing is inherently cruel and unusual. The conservative justices “should openly say that it’s up to the states to execute however they choose.” Let’s end the debate on whether or not the pain inflicted while killing human beings is “superadded.”