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Monica Lindstrom

Updated Jun 29, 2015 - 3:58 pm

Legally Speaking: 2 Supreme Court rulings leave Arizona unchanged

The Supreme Court of the United States handed down its last decisions of this term Monday. Two of the decisions affect Arizonans.

The first was Glossip v. Gross and the issue of the lethal injection cocktail for executions; the second was Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission and the issue of a commission drawing the redistricting lines.

Let’s take the execution case first.

Remember hearing about the botched execution in Oklahoma a couple years ago? Yes, this is that case. Every state that has the death penalty has lethal injection as its primary method of execution.

The Oklahoma lethal injection protocol/procedure includes a mix of three drugs. Incidentally, Arizona uses the same protocol.

The first drug used is midazolam, which is intended to render the person unconscious so there is no feeling of pain. The second drug paralyzes the person, stopping the breathing and the third drug, potassium chloride, stops the heart.

The issue in this case surrounded the use of midazolam, which is a sedative used for anxiety.

The inmates argued that midazolam is not reliable in that it doesn’t always make the person unconscious before the second and third drugs are administered.

In other words, midazolam does not induce the deep coma that the previous drugs (which are now unavailable) could.

The Court focused the majority of its questions on whether this was just another attempt to abolish the death penalty and the opinions reflected the death penalty controversy.

It made rhetorical statements that it is the abolitionist movement that has caused the states to have to use midazolam by putting pressure on the manufacturers of the other, more reliable drugs, to stop selling it for execution purposes.

In other words, it is they who have caused their own problem. Interesting.

The other avenue of questions focused on how effective midazolam is for this purpose and if it really does render the person unconscious in a reasonable time.

This case is important to Arizona because the state may have had to spend more time and money to change its protocol if SCOTUS had sided with the death row inmates and outlawed the use of midazolam.

That would have resulted in more taxpayer money being spent to execute the fewer than 200 people on death row.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision the death row inmates failed to prove the use of midazolam violates the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

As such, Oklahoma’s (and Arizona’s) protocol can continue to use the three-drug cocktail that includes midazolam.

The majority indicated that midazolam is not cruel and unusual punishment when compared to known and available alternatives.

This ties into the questioning above, since the abolitionist movement has made the preferred drugs almost impossible to obtain, they have essentially made them unavailable and thus off the table for comparison.

The phrase “shooting yourself in the foot comes” to mind.

The Court noted:

“To succeed on an Eighth Amendment method-of- execution claim, a prisoner must establish that the method creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain and that the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.”

There is a caveat, since this was based on a request for a preliminary injunction, the Court gave deference to the district court’s findings.

That means if evidence comes to light that midazolam is not effective, this decision can change.

Now let’s switch gears to the redistricting case.

Voters amended Arizona’s constitution to give the power to draw federal congressional district boundaries over to an independent commission.

The thought was that there would be less corruption and the like if there was an independent commission doing this instead of the legislature itself.

The legislature did not like losing this power so it decided to take it to court. There are approximately 12 other states that have the same issue.

SCOTUS focused its questions on the constitution since under it the legislature is the only body that has the authority to draw the boundaries.

There were questions back and forth about what the term “legislature” meant and whether it meant more than its “conventional meaning.”

In its decision, the Court started by noting that:

“[u]nder Arizona’s Constitution, the electorate shares lawmaking authority on equal footing with the Arizona Legislature. The voters may adopt laws and constitutional amendments by ballot initiative, and they may approve or disapprove, by referendum, measures passed by the Legislature.”

In another 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held “the Elections Clause and 2 U. S. C. §2a(c) permit Arizona’s use of a commission to adopt congressional districts.”

As such, the commission stands, much to the disappointment of the legislature.

As you can see, Arizona is never far from the headlines when it comes to legal issues.

Monica Lindstrom will continue to keep you updated on legal issues on, on Twitter @MonicaLindstrom, and on News 92.3 FM and Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.


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