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supreme court ruling

The Supreme Court may have just set a troubling precedent for capital punishment

The United States Supreme Court on Monday ruled against a death row inmate who was seeking to find an alternative to lethal injection as a capital punishment method. Some believe it might set a dangerous precedent.

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern writes that the court ruled against Russell Bucklew, an inmate from Missouri who has a rare medical condition that would make death by lethal injection extremely painful for him, as confirmed by medical professionals. Bucklew requested to die by "hypoxia" — a lack of oxygen — instead, citing two Supreme Court precedents which ruled that inmates challenging their methods of execution must provide an alternative method. Bucklew fulfilled that criteria, but he lost 5-4 anyway, with the court's five conservative justices voting against him.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion, wrote that the prisoner must not only provide a "feasible" alternative method, but that the prisoner can only do so when "the question in dispute is whether the State's chosen method of execution cruelly superadds pain to the death sentence."

But Gorsuch "smuggles" in that argument, writes Stern. The notion that prisoners could only request changes if the State was proven to intentionally add pain did appear in one of the precedents for this ruling written by Justice Clarence Thomas, but it was not adopted by the majority of the court. Instead, the precedents only specify that the prisoner's request can be granted if a feasible and less painful alternative is provided.

The decision could eventually warp itself into something even uglier, writes Stern, and could turn into a larger battle over the Eighth Amendment and precedents regarding capital punishment. Read more at Slate.