Monday, September 12, 2016
In its opinion in Wood v. Collier, Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote for the panel and rejected the claims of death row inmates that Texas is obliged by the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law to re-test the execution drug - - -a single, five-gram dose of pentobarbital - - - to assure it does not present a high risk of unnecessary pain.
The identity and sources of drugs to accomplish "lethal injection" has been much litigated, including the Court's 2015 decision in Glossip v. Gross, rejecting an Eighth Amendment challenge to Oklahoma's three-drug lethal injection cocktail. As this Fifth Circuit opinion notes:
Texas originally used pentobarbital purchased from a pharmaceutical firm in its executions. However in 2011, Lundbeck, the Danish pharmaceutical firm that produces manufactured pentobarbital, refused to supply the drug to states that execute by lethal injection.In response, in September 2013, Texas began purchasing pentobarbital compounded by pharmacies.Texas alleges, and Appellants do not dispute, that Texas has used compounded pentobarbital to execute thirty- two prisoners since 2013 without issue.
Yet in June, Texas agreed to re-test the pentobarbital for a death sentenced inmate, mooting his civil action. The inmates here argue that this settlement essentially substantiates their Eighth Amendment claim and creates an Equal Protection Clause claim. The court disagreed:
However one kneads the protean language of equal protection jurisprudence, the inescapable reality is that these prisoners have not demonstrated that a failure to retest brings the risk of unnecessary pain forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. Attempting to bridge this shortfall in their submission with equal protection language, while creative, brings an argument that is ultimately no more than word play.
In short, the "strategic decision" of Texas to re-test the drug for one inmate is irrelevant for the others, especially "in the context of an ever-changing array of suits attacking its use of capital punishment from all angles."