WASHINGTON -- In a scathing dissent in the Supreme Court ruling on Monday which upheld Oklahoma's use of a lethal injection drug, some of the court's liberal justices suggested that the high court's ruling would allow prisoners to be "drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake" by states that wished to put them to death.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Eleana Kagan, wrote that the majority opinion in the 5-4 case left those sentenced to the death penalty "exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake."
"Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment -- the chemical equivalent of being burned alive," Sotomayor wrote. "But under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated."
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, addressed that issue head on. The opinion said it was "simply not true" that the ruling would allow people to be burned at the stake. Alito wrote that the dissent’s "resort to this outlandish rhetoric reveals the weakness of its legal arguments."
Breyer also wrote a separate dissent, joined by Ginsburg, which called for a review of whether the death penalty violates the Constitution, saying that it was "highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment."