This post appeared originally on scotusblog.com
The Supreme Court on Thursday evening cleared the way for Texas to execute death-row inmate Robert Charles Ladd, a new indication that the Justices will leave states with wide leeway to carry out the death penalty. With no noted dissents, the Court turned down two pleas for delay of Ladd’s execution.
The first of those pleas was a challenge to Ladd’s execution on the claim that he is mentally handicapped, and the second was a challenge to the lethal-drug protocol that Texas uses for executions. Those are the two kinds of claims that have become common in last-minute attempts to spare condemned inmates.
Most of those attempts have been turned down by the Court, without explanation but not always unanimously. In a break with that pattern last week, the Court agreed to hear a plea by three Oklahoma inmates, but that case is looking increasingly narrow, focused only on one drug used in the process by Oklahoma and one other state, Florida.
When the Justices put the Oklahoma executions on hold, it did so only for a procedure that used the sedative midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug protocol. That limitation appeared to set the stage for Oklahoma to adopt an alternative protocol, and try again to carry out the death sentences of those three inmates.
In Texas, Ladd was given the death sentence for the 1996 murder of a woman in her apartment in Tyler. She was apparently bludgeoned with a hammer, strangled and sexually assaulted, and her apartment had been set on fire. The victim had worked at a Dallas center that provided assistance to individuals with mental handicaps or drug dependency. Ladd had been at that center for a time.
In his latest legal challenge to his execution based on his claim of a mental deficiency, state courts in Texas turned him down on a procedural basis, and state officials had argued in their Supreme Court filings that the federal courts had no authority to act in the face of that outcome.
In his challenge to the execution protocol used by Texas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a trial judge’s ruling that his lawyers had not shown that the method — using a single drug (pentobarbital) — would violate the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
Since 2012, Texas has used that single-drug protocol repeatedly. It does not use the sedative midazolam that is at issue in the Oklahoma case.