In a 2-1 decision, a panel of three judges from the D.C. Circuit Court lifted the order of a district court judge ending the executions and remanded the case to the lower court to resolve several remaining legal issues.
Justices Neomi Rao and Gregory Katsas, both appointed by Trump, said that a Justice Department plan to execute death row inmates under a new drug protocol was authorized by federal law. Justice David Tatel, appointed by Clinton, was dissenting.
Federal executions have not taken place since 2003, in part due to a widespread shortage during the Obama administration of lethal injection drugs implicated in the so-called three drug cocktail.
In order to resume capital punishment at the federal level, the Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrBarr Tells Prosecutors To Consider Coronavirus Risk When Determining Bail: Report Decentralized Leadership Raises Questions About Trump’s Response To Coronavirus announced in July that the executions would take place using a single drug, sodium pentobarbital.
The question was whether the Trump administration’s drug protocol violated the Federal Death Penalty Law (FDPA), which states that the state where a capital crime was committed should determine the mode of execution.
In November, judge Tanya Chutkan of the D.C. District Court sided with several death row inmates who challenged the law and agreed to temporarily suspend their executions. The Obama appointee felt that the federal government had probably gone beyond its authority by creating a single method of uniform execution, rather than following the state-by-state approach under the FDPA.
“There is no law that gives the (federal government) the power to establish a single implementation procedure for all federal executions,” wrote Chutkan. “On the contrary, Congress, through the FDPA, has expressly reserved these decisions for sentencing states.”
But the D.C. Circuit Court on Tuesday took a different view of the extent to which Congress wanted the federal government to adhere to the specifics of state execution laws.
“Each member of the panel has a different point of view on what the federal death penalty law requires. Because two of us believe that the district court misinterpreted the FDPA, we are canceling the preliminary injunction, “wrote the panel.
In his dissent, Tatel said he believes the law requires federal executions to reflect state protocols, which the Trump administration’s plan does not do.
“Because the federal protocol, at first glance, ignores these procedures, it is against (the law), and I would leave it,” wrote Tatel.
Cate Stetson, a lawyer for Hogan Lovells, who represents death row inmates, criticized the decision of the D.C. Circuit panel.
“The injunction of the district court was intended to prevent the government from” short-circuiting the legitimate judicial process “and to serve the public interest by” trying to ensure that the most serious sentence was imposed lawfully “, he said. she declared. “Without a plenary court ruling, the panel’s exploded decision will allow the government to execute prisoners even if serious questions remain unanswered as to the legality of the government’s execution procedures under federal law. “
The case, Roane v. Barr, will be referred to the district court to resolve unresolved legal issues.
Updated at 12:19 p.m.