Supreme Court Rules Against Death Row Inmate Arguing For Less Painful Death

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The Supreme Court just ruled 5-4 against Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew, who challenged his death penalty with the claim that a lethal injection would cause “severe harm and suffering” due to his cavernous hemangioma, a rare disease. The challenge is the first major case regarding the death penalty since Justice Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, per CNN.

Bucklew’s lawyers argued that his disease is progressive, causing an “unstable blood-filled tumor to grow in his head, neck and throat.” They claim that a lethal injection would force him to endure prolonged suffocation and argued for the consideration of death by lethal gas instead.

But Justice Neil Gorsuch — who represented the five-justice court majority behind the decision to deny him this — said that the Eighth Amendment “does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain” during executions. In addition, he said that inmates can only challenge execution methods if they identify a “feasible, readily implemented” alternative to “significantly” reduce the risk of severe pain. He claims that Bucklew failed to “present any evidence” that lethal gas was a less painful substitution.

Not only that, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that although Bucklew claims lethal injection risks subjecting him to “constitutionally impermissible suffering,” the majority believes that the state has the right to execute him regardless.

Per NPR, Bucklew was convicted of the kidnapping, murder, and rape of Michael Sanders in 1996. Although he was scheduled to be executed back in 2014, his execution was delayed when his case made it to the Supreme Court.

Gorsuch stated that Bucklew is attempting to delay his execution by using the legal system to his advantage.


“The people of Missouri, the surviving victims of Mr. Bucklew’s crimes, and others like them deserve better.”

Justice Sotomayor, who disagreed with the majority, claims that she was “especially troubled” by the majority’s support of maintaining execution timelines.

“There are higher values than ensuring that executions run on time. If a death sentence or the manner in which it is carried out violates the Constitution, that stain can never come out. Our jurisprudence must remain one of vigilance and care, not one of dismissiveness.”

Despite a conservative majority in the court, most Democratic primary contenders are moving against the death penalty. And although the majority of the country is still in favor of it, an increasing number of people are against it, which could be one reason why Democratic contenders are moving in this direction.