WASHINGTON – Several Supreme Court justices on Monday continued a heated debate on how to handle last-minute requests in death penalty cases, issuing a series of unusual opinions about actions the court had taken several weeks ago.
In one opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, explained why they voted in March to stay the execution of Patrick H. Murphy, a Buddhist in Texas whose request that his spiritual adviser accompany him to the death chamber had been denied though Christian and Muslim chaplains were allowed. Texas now excludes all spiritual advisers from the execution chamber.
Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, responded Monday with a statement that the inmate's delay in asserting his claim should have justified letting his execution go forward.
In a third opinion, Thomas, joined by Alito and Gorsuch, wrote about why they voted last month to allow the execution of an Alabama inmate, Christopher Lee Price, a move that had prompted an anguished middle-of-the-night dissent from Justice Stephen Breyer.
The majority, in a brief, unsigned opinion last month, said Price had waited too long to raise his claim that Alabama's method of execution, a lethal injection of three chemicals, could subject him to excruciating pain.
Breyer's request that the justices discuss the matter the next morning was refused, which Breyer said" calls into question the basic principles of fairness that should underlie our criminal justice system."
New York Times