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May 17, 2020

After DC Circuit denies en banc review, wondering what might be next for litigation over federal lethal injection plans

As reported in this Bloomberg News piece, headlined "D.C. Circuit Won’t Reconsider President Trump’s Execution Win," on Friday "President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr got one step closer in their quest to resume federal executions, as a full panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington has declined to reconsider last month’s three-judge panel ruling in the government’s favor."  The DC Circuit order, available here, was unanimous with only Judge Tatel adding this statement:

TATEL, Circuit Judge: Even though I believe this case is en banc worthy, I did not call for a vote because, given that the Supreme Court directed this court to proceed “with appropriate dispatch,” Barr v. Roane, 140 S. Ct. 353 (2019), I agree that “[our] review should be concluded without delay,” Opp’n to Pet. for Reh’g En Banc 15.

Normally, it might be a given that this development would prompt the federal capital defendants to seek review in the US Supreme Court. But, critically, I do not believe there are pending execution date from these capital defendants and the split nature of the DC Circuit's panel ruling, as discussed here and here, may make it hard for DOJ to move forward with any execution plans.  The Bloomberg article speaks to some of this enduring uncertainty:

But it’s not clear that the prisoners are in a hurry to get back before the high court. They might prefer to go back down to the district court, whose Nov. 21 preliminary injunction the three-judge panel upended, to further litigate the issues in this complex case.

“The federal death row prisoners’ challenge to the government’s flawed execution protocol will continue,” their lawyer, Cate Stetson, said on Friday after the full-panel denial.  “The Court of Appeals’ fractured decision leaves many questions about the legality of the government’s execution protocol unresolved,” she said. “We will be actively assessing all available avenues to ensure that no federal executions take place until the courts have had an opportunity to review all outstanding issues.”

Given that the federal capital defendants previously got a favorable ruling from the district judge presiding over these matters, and especially given that it seems that at least five SCOTUS Justices are not too keen on litigation over execution protocols, I would be inclined to predict that the defendants here might be content to continue fighting various battles in the low courts before risking a loss in any litigation war waged at SCOTUS.

Prior related posts:

May 17, 2020 at 02:04 PM | Permalink

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