Pointed divisions within the Supreme Court over capital punishment reemerged Monday, as the justices issued new opinions rehashing recent last-minute death penalty appeals.
The Court has barely concealed its sharp internal disagreement over late-arriving death penalty cases in recent months.
One such dispute arose in Alabama, where inmate Christopher Lee Price asked to be put to death with nitrogen hypoxia, as opposed to a lethal injection protocol. Price asked the high court to stop his execution on April 11. The Court denied Price’s application, over a seething dissent from Justice Stephen Breyer.
Thomas wrote a separate opinion to “set the record straight” Monday, hitting notes frequently sounded by the conservative justices in recent death penalty cases.
“[Price’s] strategy is no secret, for it is the same strategy adopted by many death-row inmates with an impending execution: bring last-minute claims that will delay the execution, no matter how groundless,” Thomas wrote. “The proper response to this maneuvering is to deny meritless requests expeditiously.”
The justices were scheduled to meet in private conference on April 12 to review pending petitions. Breyer proposed holding Price’s case over for discussion at that meeting in his dissent. In a biting rejoinder, Thomas dismissed that notion out of hand, saying Breyer’s plan was so unconvincing it might not have been an earnest idea.