SCOTUS orders Texas to accommodate death row inmate’s request for priest to lay hands

The Supreme Court recently issued a ruling on the religious rights of death row inmates.

In an 8–1 decision, the high court’s majority ruled that Texas must accommodate a convicted murderer who asked for a priest to lay hands on him and pray aloud during his execution, Politico reported

SCOTUS issues ruling

John Ramirez was sentenced to death in 2008 for the 2004 murder of a convenience store worker, Pablo Castro, during a robbery. Ramirez stabbed the victim 29 times and made off with $1.25.

The state argued that granting Ramirez’s requests for religious accommodation would disrupt his sentence, but Chief Justice John Roberts argued that Texas did not use the “least restrictive means” available to further the state’s interests.

“Because it is possible to accommodate Ramirez’s sincere religious beliefs without delaying or impeding his execution, the Court concludes the balance of
equities and the public interest favor his tailored request for injunctive relief,” Roberts wrote.

Roberts further noted that there is a long history, going back before the founding of the United States, of priests praying with condemned inmates during their last moments.

Ramirez “is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief because he will be unable to engage in protected religious exercise in the final moments of his life,” Roberts wrote.

Thomas issues fiery dissent

In a fiery dissent echoing concerns he raised previously about Ramirez “gaming the system,” Justice Clarence Thomas accused the majority of doing a disservice to the family of the victim by helping a vicious and manipulative murderer delay justice with phony, “abusive” litigation.

The court’s move “grants equitable relief for a demonstrably abusive and insincere claim filed by a prisoner with an established history of seeking unjustified delay, harming the State and Ramirez’s victims in the process,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas noted that death row inmates commonly seek to delay their executions by abusing the courts and argued that Ramirez was a “textbook” example of this behavior.

Ramirez sought to delay his initially scheduled February 2017 execution less than a week beforehand, and he initially said he did not require a priest to lay hands on him when he first raised the issue of having a pastor present in 2020, Thomas noted, also pointing out that Ramirez evaded capture for more than three years by fleeing to Mexico. Thomas balked at Roberts’ claim that the court could resolve the issue without delaying justice, writing, “We are now many months past what was Ramirez’s third execution date.”

“Texas’ citizens and Castro’s family deserve more consideration and better treatment than the majority gives them,” Thomas wrote.

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