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Supreme Court intervenes in execution of Buddhist prisoner

Last month the Supreme Court cleared the way for Alabama to execute a Muslim inmate after denying the inmate’s request to have an imam at his side in the execution chamber, even though the prison would have allowed a Christian chaplain to be present in the chamber. But tonight the justices blocked the state of Texas from executing a Buddhist prisoner, Patrick Murphy, while Murphy files a petition for review of his case on the merits, unless the state allows either Murphy’s spiritual advisor or another Buddhist priest to join Murphy in the execution chamber during the execution.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch indicated that they would have denied Murphy’s request.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a separate opinion agreeing with the court’s decision to block the state from executing Murphy unless he is allowed to have a Buddhist priest at his side. Noting that Murphy had asked to have his spiritual advisor at his side during his execution a month ago (and therefore distinguishing the case from that of the Alabama inmate, whom the majority regarded as having asked for relief too late), Kavanaugh stressed that Texas allows Muslim and Christian inmates to have a Muslim or Christian spiritual advisor employed by the state in the execution chamber, while other inmates of other faiths, including Buddhism, can only have their spiritual advisors in the viewing room. Kavanaugh acknowledged that states may have “a strong interest in tightly controlling access to an execution room in order to ensure that the execution occurs without any complications, distractions, or disruptions.” But the answer to those concerns, he continued, would be to restrict all spiritual advisors, regardless of their faith, to the viewing room. What the state cannot do, he concluded, “is to allow Christian or Muslim inmates but not Buddhist inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room.”

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Supreme Court intervenes in execution of Buddhist prisoner, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 29, 2019, 12:11 AM),