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October 26, 2021

More executions postponed in Texas as SCOTUS considers religious liberty in death chamber

As reported in this post, the Supreme Court last month stayed the execution of John Ramirez and granted certiorari to consider Ramirez’s request that his pastor be allowed to physically touch him and pray aloud in the execution chamber while Ramirez is put to death by the state of Texas.  In this follow-up post, titled "A short de facto execution moratorium?: could other condemned inmates secure a stay until SCOTUS decides new Ramirez case on religious liberty?", I wondered if the SCOTUS cert grant in Ramirez could produce a short de facto execution moratorium based on other death row inmates making a religious liberty claim like Ramirez’s request. 

Since those posts, as noted here, Texas has been able to complete one execution, but a number of others have been postponed.  And this new AP report, headlined "Texas executions delayed over religious rights claims," details that the last two executions scheduled in Texas have now been postponed.  Here are the details:

The unresolved legal debate over whether spiritual advisers can touch inmates and pray aloud as condemned individuals are being put to death has delayed the final two executions scheduled this year in Texas. The delays come as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments next month in the case of another Texas death row inmate on the role of spiritual advisers in the death chamber.

Judges last week rescheduled the executions of Kosoul Chanthakoummane, who was set to die Nov. 10, and Ramiro Gonzales, who was set for Nov. 17. Gonzales’ new execution date is July 13 while Chanthakoummane’s new date is Aug. 17. Both inmates claimed that Texas was violating their religious freedom by not allowing their spiritual advisers to pray aloud and place a hand on their bodies at the time of their deaths.

“Litigation pending in the United States Supreme Court regarding the defendant’s right to the free exercise of religion warrants the withdrawal of the present date of execution and the setting of a new date of execution,” Medina County prosecutor Edward Shaughnessy wrote in a motion asking a judge to reschedule Gonzales’ execution.

In all, six executions that were scheduled this year in Texas were delayed or rescheduled due to religious freedom claims related to spiritual advisers.

Executions in Texas have been sporadic in the last two years, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with just three lethal injections carried out last year, and three executions so far this year. In comparison, Texas carried out 13 executions in 2018 and nine in 2019.

Prior related posts:

October 26, 2021 at 09:05 PM | Permalink


I don’t think this means the SCOTUS reactionaries have gone soft, right. Unless I don’t understand it right, even a ruling in favor of the claimants just means they get some extra religious bells and whistles leading up to execution. But they still get executed all the same; this isn’t a claim to prevent execution itself.

So the reactionaries get the best of both worlds. On the one hand, nobody escapes the needle (or possibly firing squad in some cases). On the other, new Free Exercise doctrine is created that can then be put toward malevolent purposes in cases down the road. Seems like a pretty good arrangement from their perspective.

On the subject of needles, I guess the anti-vaxx reactionaries do like some injections, as long as they’re of they lethal variety.

Posted by: kotodama | Oct 27, 2021 12:06:11 AM

I will repeat what I said when the Supreme Court granted cert. The safe approach for states wanting to carry out executions is to make reasonable accommodations to the religious requests of inmate.

But, at the end of the day, this dispute is a win-win for Republicans in Texas -- either they get to deny religious rights of inmates or they get an expanded definition of religious liberty.

Posted by: tmm | Oct 27, 2021 10:55:56 AM

One of the people executed since they took the case was not only allowed someone there [which SCOTUS required in a shadow docket case earlier] but allowed the minister to hold his hand or something.

Two other people were executed since they took the case. Not aware of any religious accommodations required. The executions each had some other issue, not addressed for the usual reasons.

I don't think anyone is going "soft," but it does show some consistency on religious liberty. That's somewhat useful. Alito, e.g., wrote a case involving prisoners and beards. Thomas in the past, in comparison, selectively argued race consciousness in prisons is acceptable, while strongly against that sort of thing outside.

To be clear, I don't think the religious liberty claims will be handled totally consistency. The level of care the current majority requires alone makes that impracticable. They will selectively apply it in various respects.

As someone very concerned about the death penalty, I share Linda Greenhouse's concerns in a recent column that this seems to be a rather trivial matter to single out [I cited in a past comment a Freedom From Religion Foundation amicus brief finding the whole thing ironic -- executions basically totally remove your religious liberty]. But, I recognize how you end your time on earth is still an important thing. So, I do think the issue isn't totally trivial.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 27, 2021 11:37:27 AM

BTW, Attorney General Garland is being questioned for a second time right now.

Sen. Booker asked him about compassionate release (sounds like it) and raised the possibility of different rules for different judicial circuits.

There might be something interesting in the mix, moving past the conservative focus on some memorandum that appears to be what is their biggest concern.


Posted by: Joe | Oct 27, 2021 12:52:42 PM

Also, for now, the next execution is being held up.

I don't know how long that will last.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 27, 2021 5:37:15 PM

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