A note today from the Legal Information Institute (LII) at Cornell University’s Law Library notes that a big death penalty case is set for argument on Monday, January 7.
The issue in Baze v. Rees is whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore prohibited under the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. Plaintiffs Thomas Baze and Thomas K. Bowling argue that there is an impermissible chance of pain from the execution process.
Two lower courts ruled against the plaintiffs. In a rather surprise move, the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari on September 25 to hear the case, which some interpret as the Court’s willingness to review the cruel and unusual argument in the light of a majority of the states now refusing to use the death penalty, while others think it means the more conservative Roberts Court is willing to quash death penalty appeals with a ruling that injection is not cruel and unusual.
This highlights the 8th Amendment. Discussion of this topic may help students cement their knowledge of the amendment and Bill of Rights. News on this case generally highlights court procedures, procedures, legal and constitutional principles that students in government classes need to understand.
News on the arguments in this case should go into teacher scrapbooks for later classroom exercises. Teachers may want to note that the decision will come down before the Court adjourns in June, but it may come down before the end of the school year. Teachers may want to have students review information about the case and make predictions, which predictions can be checked with the decision issues.
Below the fold I copy LII’s introduction to the case in their Oral Argument Previews, with the links to the full discussion, which you may use in your classes.
LII operates off of contributions. I usually give $10 or so when I think of it — these resources are provided free. You should be using at least $10 worth of stuff in your classrooms — look for the donation link, and feel free to use it in the support of excellent legal library materials provided free of cost to teachers and students.
____________________________________ LETHAL INJECTION, CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/07-5439.html =============================================================, DEATH PENALTY Baze v. Rees (07-5439) Oral argument: January 7, 2008. Ralph Baze and Thomas K. Bowling brought a civil suit against the in Franklin Circuit Court, claiming that the lethal injection procedure that the state uses creates an unnecessary risk of pain and suffering and is thus in violation of the . After denying the state's motion to dismiss, the trial judge found that the lethal injection procedure was not unconstitutional. The of affirmed, holding that the has never required a completely painless execution. Baze and Bowling argue that Kentucky's lethal injection procedure violates the because it creates a "significant and unnecessary risk of pain," in addition to citing poor administrative measures and untrained personnel. , however, argues that a method of execution only amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment" if it creates a "substantial risk" of unnecessary pain, and Kentucky's procedure does not meet that threshold. By granting certiorari in this case, the has seemingly imposed a "de facto moratorium" on lethal injections across the country. While the outcome of this case is unlikely to outlaw the death penalty on the whole, it may have a profound effect on the kinds of procedures that will be used to carry out future executions. Continues: