« Rounding up another round of terrific new essays at Inquest | Main | "Expanding Compassion Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic" »

September 9, 2021

A short de facto execution moratorium?: could other condemned inmates secure a stay until SCOTUS decides new Ramirez case on religious liberty?

As highlighted in this post, the Supreme Court late last night stayed the execution of John Ramirez, who was scheduled to be killed by Texas via lethal injection on Wednesday night.  Importantly, the Justices not only postponed this execution, it also granted certiorari to allow the Court to fully consider on the merits Ramirez’s request that his pastor be allowed to physically touch him and audibly pray in the execution chamber while Ramirez is put to death. 

Notably, the brief SCOTUS order called for an expedited briefing schedule "that will allow the case to be argued in October or November 2021."  But, even if the argument were to take place in (late) October, it seems pretty unlikely that the Court's ultimate ruling in Ramirez v. Collier will be handed down before late November.  And, as detailed here, Texas has six additional executions scheduled for between now and November 17, 2021.  I cannot help but wonder if some or all of these condemned inmates on Texas death row will now request that a religious official be allowed to physically touch them and/or audibly pray in the execution chamber while they are put to death.  If any or all other Texas inmates on death row now make such a religious request and it is denied by prison officials (and/or if Alabama and Missouri inmates scheduled to be executed in October make similar requests), wouldn't the balance of equities support a short stay of these other scheduled executions until the Supreme Court rules in Ramirez?

Perhaps Texas and other state officials will seek to go forward with executions despite any new Ramirez-type requests by other condemned inmates for religious accommodations in the execution chamber by asserting that any new request is not made in good faith and is only a last-minute (and too-late) effort to delay an execution.  But couldn't  an inmate respond, perhaps in good faith, that he did not even think such a religious accommodation was possible until John Ramirez litigated this issue and the Supreme Court decided to take it seriously.  I sense lower courts might be particularly wary of trying to judge whether a dying inmate's religious request is sincere.  Moreover, the fact that SCOTUS has fast-tracked this case might also enable death row inmates and their counsel to argue that any execution postponement to resolve a requested Ramirez-type religious accommodations would likely last only a few months.

Am I missing something and/or am I crazy to think that the SCOTUS cert grant in Ramirez could produce a short de facto execution moratorium until the Justices issue an opinion in Ramirez

September 9, 2021 at 08:53 PM | Permalink


Well, we might see by the end of the month, one person due to be executed by Texas later this month.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 9, 2021 9:33:57 PM

Because Rick Rhoades, the inmate now scheduled to be executed on Sept 28, 2021, has been on death row for nearly 30 years, I am now wondering if he ever previously had a serious execution date. If he did and he did not make a request for a Ramirez-type religious accommodation before, perhaps Texas official will assert he cannot make such a request now.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 10, 2021 8:42:21 AM

I could also see any state simply giving into any religious accommodation that does not interfere with the execution and being ready for an immediate hearing on any stay request for a religious accommodation that would actually interfere with the execution.

Posted by: tmm | Sep 10, 2021 1:07:22 PM

the SCT is hilarious. they won't stay executions for claims of innocence or constitutional violations, but wow, just try to keep this guy's pastor from touching him!

Posted by: AFPD | Sep 10, 2021 2:51:12 PM

John Ramirez thinks Texas is interfering with his religious liberty, a constitutional matter (though it might be determined by statutory requirements), and doesn't find the issue just silly.

It's to him a fundamental matter of his faith, religious practice at birth and death an important part of that. As is discretion by a prisoner in one of the few ways they have some power over their lives.

The Supreme Court as a whole has been selective in its concern of constitutional rights, true enough. Stopping an execution at this stage would generally most logically focus on the means of execution that is scheduled.

Some other claim usually can be made earlier. I personally think they should have various executions, particularly the federal executions that had multiple procedural problems that the Supreme Court rushed over, in January basically a game of keep away, since Biden would have not executed the people.

They have one or more other capital cases for the 2021 term.

As to claims of innocence, I see one of the four disputes over this matter I am aware of that they substantively addressed (Ruben Gutierrez) has claimed innocence & sought DNA testing.


Posted by: Joe | Sep 10, 2021 3:24:00 PM

"should have STOPPED"

Here's a discussion of three other previously cases


So, you have those three, Gutierrez, and the one they just taken.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 10, 2021 3:29:05 PM

Alabama is trying to moot this issue by letting the dude (Willie Smith, the Smith from the denial of app to vacate stay re this issue in feb 2021 Dunn v smith) be touched and even have oils rubbed on his face before. I’m not shitting. Not sure re audible prayer

Posted by: 2254 chrisrian | Sep 12, 2021 10:31:51 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB