The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the most common method of lethal injection used for executions by the federal government and 36 states. The unsuccessful constitutional challenge to the three-drug lethal injection was brought by lawyers representing two men sentenced to die in the state of Kentucky. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
Lawyers for the two convicted murderers at the center of the case argued that death by lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the U.S. constitution. The lawyers argued that the drugs are often administered by untrained officials who sometimes botch the executions, causing extreme pain and suffering.
But the justices, in a seven-to-two vote, rejected the challenge. The ruling clears the way for executions to resume across the United States, after an unofficial moratorium took hold when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Reacting swiftly to the news, Virginia's Governor Tim Kaine lifted a moratorium on executions imposed on April 1. Other states that have the death penalty are likely to follow Virginia's lead.
Brian Evans of Amnesty International, an organization that staunchly opposes the death penalty, says the ruling will not stop the intense debate on the death penalty taking place across the United States.
"We don't think that there is going to be much long-term impact from this ruling," Evans said. "This ruling addresses a certain form of execution, but it does not address the real problems with the death penalty, which are bias in the system, racism in the system, and the fact that innocent people continue to end up on death row. Just since the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case in September of last year, four more people have been exonerated from death rows in the United States."
John Holdridge of the American Civil Liberties Union says it is difficult to know how great an impact the ruling will have. He says opponents of the death penalty, such as his organization, have made significant gains in recent years.
"The polls that supported the death penalty are at their lowest point in many years and more and more people are beginning to become very uncomfortable with the death penalty," Holdridge said. "The reasons being that, number one, it is, you know, fraught with error, that we keep getting it wrong."
Holdridge said the other main reason more people are turning against the death penalty is the cost factor. He said it costs taxpayers much more to execute a prisoner than to pay for a life sentence, taking into account the lengthy appeal process.
The Supreme Court also heard arguments Wednesday in a separate death penalty case on whether someone should be executed for raping a child.
The case involves Patrick Kennedy, a man on death row in the state of Louisiana for raping his eight-year-old step-daughter in 1998.
Kennedy's lawyers argue execution is cruel and unusual punishment for the crime. But death penalty advocates say execution is appropriate for someone who has savagely attacked a child and left the victim alive to deal with the trauma.