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August 29, 2006

Hill lethal injection case finally kicked back to district court

In early June (as detailed here and here and here), the Supreme Court held that Clarence Hill could proceed with his § 1983 claim alleging that Florida's lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional.  Today, in this cursory three-page per cuiam opinion, the Eleventh Circuit decided that "the district court is the appropriate forum" for considering the "equities and the merits of Hill's underlying action" and remanded the case for further proceedings.

I cannot help but wonder why, when Clarence Hill was due to be executed back in January, the Eleventh Circuit took only a day to rule against his § 1983 claim, but now it took the court over three months to simply remand for further proceedings.  In Hill, the Supreme Court stressed that "the State and the victims of crime have an important interest in the timely enforcement of a sentence," but perhaps the Eleventh Circuit believes that interest is diminished during the summer months.

August 29, 2006 at 12:30 PM | Permalink


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Harsh. At least they didn't wait until after Labor Day.


Posted by: Mark | Aug 29, 2006 2:58:54 PM

One plausible reason for the delay is that the Eleventh Circuit was deciding whether to kill the case and Mr. Hill based on the command that a court considering a stay must apply a "strong equitable presumption against the grant of a stay where a claim could have been brought at such a time as to allow consideration of the merits without requiring entry of a stay. . . . The federal courts can and should protect States from dilatory or speculative suits." Hill v. McDonough, 126 S.Ct. at 2104.

It seems that the appellate court could decide this issue -- the SCOTUS cited two appellate court and one district court decisions for the propositio that the last-minute nature of an application or an applicant's attempt at manipulation of the judicial process may be grounds for denial of a stay)). Id., citing Hicks v. Taft, 431 F.3d 916 (6th Cir. 2005); White v. Johnson, 429 F.3d 572 (5th Cir. 2005); Boyd v. Beck, 404 F.Supp.2d 879 (E.D.N.C.2005).

Posted by: anonymous | Aug 29, 2006 6:32:11 PM

But, anonymous, shouldn't the court have asked for briefing in light of Hill if that was what the court was considering? Also, a new execution date for Hill has been set, and to my knowledge no stay of that date has (yet) been sought.

Posted by: Doug B. | Aug 29, 2006 7:59:24 PM

I suppose so, Professor - I'm no expert on when briefing is appropriate. It is fairly inexplicable why they took so long. But even worse, and I think you made this point a while back, is that the Supreme Court took forever to hear the case, and then turned around and said that federal courts have the responsibility to prevent undue delays in executions!

Posted by: anonymous | Aug 30, 2006 2:00:40 PM

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