Supreme Court continues capital punishment trend with Barrett on the bench

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Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the Supreme Court late last month, was probably in the majority on Thursday night’s action allowing a federal execution to proceed.

The Supreme Court continued its trend late Thursday night of allowing federal executions to go forward, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett participating in her first capital punishment case on the court.

The court lifted a stay of execution for Orlando Hall that had been issued by a federal judge in Washington earlier Thursday. About an hour after the high court’s action, Hall was put to death by lethal injection in the Bureau of Prison’s facility in Terre Haute, Ind.

Barrett probably was in the majority that allowed the execution to proceed, although some qualification is needed. In emergency applications, the court often does not explain its reasoning, nor does it provide a breakdown of the vote.

But Barrett, who joined the court Oct. 27, did not recuse herself from the case, as she has in others early in her tenure. She did not note her dissent from the court’s action, as did the court’s liberal justices, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

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Barrett’s role is of interest because of past comments about her Catholic faith and capital punishment.

In 1998, she co-wrote a law review article, titled “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases,” that described the tensions. She suggested judges who felt they could not be impartial because of their faith should recuse and wrote, “Catholic judges (if they are faithful to the teaching of their church) are morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty.”

Questioned about that when she was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Barrett, then a Notre Dame law professor, said she would not be willing to enter an order of execution if she were a trial judge, but it was different for appellate judges considering issues of law in the case of someone already on death row.

Stefani Reynolds

Bloomberg News

The Supreme Court building in Washington.

At the 2017 hearing, she noted that she had worked on death cases as a law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, who supported capital punishment.

Her actions on the 7th Circuit seemed to bear out her contention about the role an appellate judge plays. In July, she voted with a majority of her court to allow the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee, the first person to be executed by the federal government since 2003.

Hall became the eighth person on federal death row to be executed since Attorney General William P. Barr said he was making it a priority. Federal executions resumed this summer after a 17-year hiatus.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan earlier Thursday had delayed Hall’s execution because of concerns over the drug used in the lethal injection.

But the Supreme Court had rejected similar concerns in other cases and overrode Chutkan’s decision. It also, without noted dissent, dismissed a stay order based on the fact that Hall is Black and was convicted by an all-White jury.

Hall was convicted for his role in the 1994 kidnapping, rape and murder of 16-year-old Lisa Rene of Texas, the sister of two drug dealers whom Hall suspected had stolen money from him.

Hall and three others drove the teenager to a motel room in Arkansas, where they assaulted her and then beat her with a shovel before she was buried alive.

Source: WP