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May 14, 2006

Shouldn't Hill be the very first priority for SCOTUS?

The AP has this fine review (and this companion list) of all the big Supreme Court cases that need to be decided before the end of the Court's current Term.  In addition to noting that a lot of the remaining cases involve criminal law issues, I want to suggest that the Court, if it was really concerned about the orderly administration of justice, ought to be prioritizing the Hill case regarding the procedures for lethal injection challenges.

As I noted in this post, in about 100 days since the SCOTUS cert grant in Hill, the Supreme Court's interest in lethal injection litigation has produced a de facto moratorium in nearly every state except those that are traditional capital punishment leaders.  Moreover, as I noted in this post, proponents of capital punishment have to be troubled that lethal injection litigation has produced de facto moratoriums in many states, while opponents of capital punishment have to be troubled that Texas and a few other states have not seriously examined their lethal injection protocols as they proceed with executions.

Moreover, anyone genuinely interested in federalism, or sentencing consistency, or orderly government has to find the patchwork and disparate litigation taking place in federal district courts nationwide unseemly and counter-productive.  Moreover, stressful and inefficient expenditure of the time and energies of lower federal courts and state lawyers has marked all of the lethal injection litigation.

With lower courts scrambling to resolve lethal injection issues on tight timelines, shouldn't the SCOTUS Justices have the courtesy to put these matters of life and death ahead of other less urgent matters as they wind up this Term?

Some recent related posts:

UPDATE: Karl Keys has this long post which correctly highlights that a lot of cases still on the SCOTUS plate are "more important" than Hill.  I do not disagree with Karl's points, but I think he does not fully understand the thrust of this post. 

I do not mean to suggest that Hill is the most important case currently before the Supreme Court.  Indeed, the narrow procedural issue formally before the Court in Hill arguably makes it an extraordinarily unimportant case (unless the Justices decide spread a lot of dicta in the case).  My point is that Hill has proven to be an extraordinarily disruptive case to the orderly administration of justice in capital cases nationwide.  And the irony, of course, is that SCOTUS took up Hill purportedly to ensure lethal injection challenges are handed in a procedurally proper manner.

There are 13 executions scheduled between now and the end of the current SCOTUS Term, and litigation over lethal injection protocols seems likely in most of these cases.  I am sure lower courts would greatly appreciate SCOTUS guidance on these issues ASAP.

May 14, 2006 at 02:54 PM | Permalink


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