Attorney General Bill Barr has authorized the use of the death penalty by the federal government for the first time in almost two decades. But now that the time has come to put the authorization to use, a federal judge has pumped the brakes.
According to the Daily Caller, the Trump administration is now asking the Supreme Court to reverse a D.C. judge’s decision to block four federal executions set for Dec. 9. The four individuals on death row have each been convicted of the murders of children, among other crimes.
Mind over manner
Under the Federal Death Penalty Act, the Bureau of Prisons is required to conduct executions “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state” where the sentence was handed down. On its face, this shouldn’t be a problem, because the states in question allow lethal injection, which is the manner of execution that the federal government also employs.
However, for U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, that isn’t good enough.
In her ruling, Chutkan advocates for a broader understanding of the term “manner.” She contends that “‘manner’ means ‘a mode of procedure or way of acting,'” according to the Daily Caller. In her eyes, the “statute’s use of the word ‘manner’ thus includes not just execution method but also execution procedure.”
She concludes that because there are minor procedural differences between how the federal government and its state counterparts operate, the defendant’s death sentences cannot be carried out.
“That reading is implausible”
But as far as the Department of Justice (DOJ) is concerned, this argument just doesn’t stand up — and now, it’s asking the Supreme Court to reverse Chutkan’s decision.
“That reading is implausible,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco responded in a brief filed on Monday night.
He went on: “For virtually the entire history of the United States, beginning with the First Congress, federal statutory references to the ‘manner’ of execution have been understood — including by this Court — to refer to the mechanism for inflicting the death penalty, not to every ‘procedural detail’ that might be employed in an execution.”
Francisco went on to contend that according to Chutkan’s reasoning, states could “effectively veto a federal execution simply by making unavailable state officials or resources that are required by state law for the execution.”
One of the condemned men is Daniel Lewis Lee, who, in 1995, participated in the murder of three people, including an 8-year-old girl. The victims were suffocated using plastic bags before being dumped in a swamp.
Alfred Bourgeois, Dustin Lee Honken, and Wesley Ira Purkey are also on death row. Now, whether they live to see Dec. 10, 2019, is all up to the Supreme Court.