Just when you thought it was safe to assume again that reason will somehow prevail at the United States Supreme Court, we have a ruling with the usual 5-4 split that torturing people to death with a chemical cocktail that sometimes seems to inflict searing pain is just hunky-dory.
So we’re back to the 12th Century, unless frying condemned prisoners from the inside out and letting them die in agony over many minutes — including some prisoners who may turn out to be innocent — is your idea of justice.
Justice Sotomayor, one of the four Supreme Court dissenters, summed up my sentiments exactly:
Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment — the chemical equivalent of being burned alive,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “But under the court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death or actually burned at the stake.”
The right wing majority seems to want death at any cost, whether the condemned person is innocent or guilty. Pain? So what’s a little pain? Or a lot of pain? Even people who aren’t executed sometimes die in pain, Justice Alito argued, according to the New York Times. And besides, who says that a man, supposedly anesthetized and in the midst of his own execution, is feeling pain just because, while supposedly unconscious and paralyzed, he tries to sit up, writhing and gasping, his face contorted?
Then we had Justice Scalia, playing the new conservative game of co-opting the liberal point of view and then claiming that such a point of view should result in a conservative outcome.
We federal judges,” Justice Scalia continued, “live in a world apart from the vast majority of Americans. After work, we retire to homes in placid suburbia or to high-rise co-ops with guards at the door. We are not confronted with the threat of violence that is ever present in many Americans’ everyday lives. The suggestion that the incremental deterrent effect of capital punishment does not seem ‘significant’ reflects, it seems to me, a let-them-eat-cake obliviousness to the needs of others. Let the people decide how much incremental deterrence is appropriate.”
The trouble with Scalia’s argument is that people who have been subject to violence in their everyday lives, don’t think “incremental deterrence” like capital punishment is appropriate. Take the survivors of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. When members of their congregation were murdered by the white racist thug Dylann Roof (who was taking advantage of the right wing Supreme Court ruling on the meaning of the Second Amendment) they forgave their assailant. It’s Justice Scalia, living in his own protected real estate, who wants to see a body hanging from a tree. Or tortured to death on a gurney. Or however it is he wants the execution to be committed.
But I’ll give nearly the last word to a letter writer to the Times who observed:
The countries that practice the death penalty are (in order of the number of executions: 1. China, 2. Iran, 3. Saudi Arabia, 4. United States, 5. Pakistan,
6, Yemen, 7, North Korea, 8. Vietnam and 9. Libya. Distinguished company eh? And hey, we're number 4!
If Sharia Law ever arrives in this country, Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas and maybe even Kennedy will probably welcome it with open arms. Well actually, they already have.