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Court lifts stay in lethal injection challenge (UPDATED)

(UPDATED July 23, 2014:  This morning the Court denied another request by Wood to stay his execution.  Wood had asked the Court to review a decision by the Ninth Circuit which affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion that he had filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6); the Court also denied that petition for certiorari.)

Last week a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a request by an Arizona death-row inmate, Joseph Wood, to postpone his execution (scheduled for tomorrow) until he receives information regarding the state’s plans to execute him by lethal injection.  The court of appeals stayed the execution until Arizona provided Wood with “the name and provenance of the drugs to be used” and the “qualifications of the medical personnel” who would carry out the execution.  Yesterday the en banc Ninth Circuit declined to step in, instead leaving the panel’s stay order in effect.  That denial drew a sharp dissent from (among others) Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who wrote that he had “little doubt that the Supreme Court will thwart this latest attempt to interfere with the State of Arizona’s efforts to carry out its lawful sentence and bring Wood to justice.”  

Kozinski’s words proved prophetic, as this evening the Supreme Court granted the state’s request to vacate the temporary stay ordered by the Ninth Circuit.  The Court also denied Wood’s request for a stay of execution, along with his petition for certiorari.  Although the requests originally went to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Justice responsible for (among other things) stay requests from the geographic area of the Ninth Circuit, which includes Arizona, Justice Kennedy – as the Justices often do – referred the requests to the whole Court, and there were no dissents or separate statements from any of the Justices regarding the Court’s actions tonight.  The basis for the Court’s ruling was that the district court had not abused its discretion in denying a stay, so conceivably the result would have been different if Wood had won in both lower courts.  But the dearth of dissents suggests not.

The Court’s orders were the latest in a series of cases in which it has declined to review challenges by death-row inmates to states’ failures to provide them with information regarding the process by which they will be executed.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Court lifts stay in lethal injection challenge (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (Jul. 22, 2014, 9:06 PM),