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May 4, 2014

Shouldn't Congress be holding hearings to explore federal and state execution methods?

The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this Wall Street Journal article headlined "Justice Department Expands Review of Death-Penalty Procedures." Here are excerpts, with the key fact prompting my question emphasized:

The Justice Department has launched a review of state-run executions of death-row inmates, after President Barack Obama raised concerns about a botched execution earlier this week in Oklahoma.  A department spokesman said the agency would begin a review of state-run death-penalty programs, similar to one it has been conducting on federal capital punishment. Federal executions are rare, and there has been a moratorium in place since 2011 while the Justice Department reviews its policies. "The department is currently conducting a review of the federal protocol used by the Bureau of Prisons, and has a moratorium in place on federal executions in the meantime," said the spokesman, Brian Fallon. "At the president's direction, the department will expand this review to include a survey of state-level protocols and related policy issues."

Mr. Obama, speaking at a news conference Friday after a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called the seemingly flawed execution "deeply troubling" and said he would discuss with Attorney General Eric Holder this particular case and an analysis of U.S. death penalty practices more broadly.

The Oklahoma execution highlights some of the wider problems with U.S. death-penalty practices, he said. Mr. Obama supports the death penalty, and noted the Oklahoma inmate's "heinous" crime, but he has raised questions about it, including racial bias in the American justice system.

Regular readers know I have long been wondering and worried about how the feds were dealing with lethal injection problems in light of the fact that there are nearly a half-dozen federal death row prisoners who have nearly exhausted their appeals and should be heading soon to the execution chamber.  I surmise from this WSJ story that DOJ has been content to take its sweet time to "review its policies" on lethal injection and thus kick this controversial matter to the next person in the Oval Office.  Now, I fear, this expansion of the DOJ review to include a "survey of state-level protocols and related policy issues" is likely to provide a convenient excuse for this "review" to take another couple of years or longer.

All the national and international attention following the ugly execution in Oklahoma, as well as the President's latest comments on this topic, provide further evidence that execution methods and practices are an important issues that implicate lots of federal interests.  Federal courts, of course, have been the focal point of the constitutional debate over lethal injection now for well over a decade. The US Justice Department, it now seems, is heading toward a more than a half-decade of its own "review" of these matters.  At some point I hope (but do not readily expect) that the Article I branch of our national government will finally decide it ought to get involved with these matters.

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May 4, 2014 at 11:14 AM | Permalink


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No. How about holding a hearing on a local collision between cabs, driven by Ethiopian drivers? Why is a botched death penalty worthy of a taking up time in a hearing?

I remember why, now. To generate more regulation and to generate more costs for lawyer make work jobs.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 4, 2014 12:18:09 PM

Absolutely, positively No!

There has been no good from these congressional dog and pony shows in the last 100+ years, just preening, primping and lies from its members.

Posted by: albeed | May 4, 2014 4:37:27 PM

Doug, the truest thing I have ever read about the death penalty is that "capital punishment is more a part of the political system than the criminal justice system." I have seen some Judges and prosecutors run for election based on their "record" as it relates to the death penalty. I have read a campaign letter for a candidate for Chief Justice which touted his history of never having voted to reverse a capital case.

Congress would turn an investigation into a political circus.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | May 4, 2014 9:52:51 PM

I am sick of all the words employed in the "death penalty" discussions such as "execute", "lethal", and now we have word that they injected the Oklahoma guy in the "groin". I groan at that one. Cruel? Yes. Unusual? I say yes. Lets ask one of the Framers of the 8th Amendment. Uh, Mister Madison do you think it cruel to stab a human in the balls with a needle and inject poison so as to kill him in order to carry out a punishment for crime? Yes or No James, don't equivocate. Question two. Is that not highly unusual for your time and place of say 1791?

Posted by: Liberty1st | May 5, 2014 12:51:17 AM

This would never happen until someone can tie the botched Oklahoma execution to Benghazi.

Posted by: C.E. | May 5, 2014 1:09:12 AM

Lib: Put the tip of a finger 2 inches away from either groin, you will feel a massive artery pulsating, the femoral artery, a gigantic artery. You can plunge a needle, and even you could not miss it. One could go too far, and go to its other side. However, withdrawing it until blood started back in the syringe says you are back business. Now, push the plunger. It is not in the groin. It is at the top of the leg.

A review:


I would not worry about infections nor sterile technique, since we are trying to kill the person, not treat.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2014 1:53:22 AM

Doug wrote: "There are nearly a half-dozen federal death row prisoners who have nearly exhausted their appeals and should be heading soon to the execution chamber."

Actually, there are currently at least eleven federal inmates whose appeals have been completely exhausted.


Posted by: alpino | May 5, 2014 9:35:34 AM

Alpino: There were 15000 people executed last year by the lawyer protected, privileged lawyer client, the criminal, and another 15000 awaiting execution this year and next and all the years thereafter while the lawyer pro-criminal dumb ass is making criminal justice policy. Isn't it time to end this abomination, this crime against humanity. The dreary foreseeability of the statistic should make government fully liable to the estates of the murder victims espcially if committed by someone they loosed on the public, as most murders are.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2014 11:12:58 AM

I've called for the Feds to pass a uniform law requiring EVERY state to adopt the same sentences for 1st degree murderers and same execution procedures by all 50 states. Murder gets one of two sentences LWOP or DEATH. If a state fails to adopt those two equal protection standards then they risk mandatory 50% reduction of any federal funding given for police, AGs or justice Depts. And allows one state to transfer prisoners to another state or to the feds for execution...the less the different protocols the better.

Posted by: DeanO | May 5, 2014 9:36:42 PM

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