Supreme Court clears Trump administration plan to resume federal executions

The Supreme Court has cleared the way for the Trump administration to carry out the first executions in the federal criminal justice system in 17 years.

The justices’ routine order list issued Monday morning turned down an emergency application by four death row inmates whose lawyers contend that the plan to resume federal executions violates a federal law that appears to link the method of execution to that used by states.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor indicated they would have blocked the executions.

In December, the Supreme Court issued a surprise ruling halting the executions so that the prisoners could pursue their legal arguments in a federal appeals court. Three justices — Samuel Alito Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh —signaled that they went along with the delay reluctantly, and that they considered the arguments being leveled by the inmates to be weak.

In April, the D.C. Circuit issued a splintered ruling that overturned a lower court’s decision granting an injunction against the plan to resume lethal injections for federal inmates.

The two Republican appointees on the appeals panel agreed that the district court’s ruling was flawed, although they differed about the degree. The sole Democratic appointee said the federal government was obliged by law to follow every aspect of a state’s execution protocol, if it had one, or to turn the execution over to the state to carry out.

Earlier this month, Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to set the plan in motion once again.

Three executions have been set for July and one for August, all at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

The case involving the four inmates remains pending in the district court in Washington, where lawyers could pursue other legal arguments to block the executions, but those efforts face long odds.

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