Top court clears way for executions to resume

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the lethal three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions, clearing the way for a resumption of capital punishment halted since last September. By a 7-2 vote, the high court ruled against two Kentucky death row inmates who argued the current lethal injection method violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment by inflicting needless pain and suffering.

But the splintered court, which issued seven separate opinions totaling 92 pages, left open the possibility of future challenges to lethal injection practices if another method were devised that could be proven to significantly reduce the risk of severe pain.

The Supreme Court’s decision was announced as Pope Benedict, an opponent of the death penalty, visited President George W. Bush at the White House. “It is clear, then, that the Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s main opinion.

The ruling means more than a dozen death row inmates likely will get early execution date. Officials in the leading death penalty states, like Texas, Virginia and Florida, said they planned to move forward with executions that had been on hold.

“There will be some executions going through but we won’t see 50 or 100 in a short time. This is still going to be case by case,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.