Monday, May 11, 2015

Mooted by execution: the strange math of Supreme Court capital appeals

The day after the Supreme Court held oral-argument in the same-sex marriage case, it heard
Glossip v. Gross, a case about Oklahoma's lethal-injection drug. But when the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, the case name was Warner v. Gross.

The case name changed because eight days before the Court agreed to hear Charles Warner's appeal, it denied Warner's application for a stay of execution. Warner died later that day by lethal injection.

It may seem bizarre that the Court allowed Warner to die before his appeal got resolved. How did this happen?

It takes only four votes (out of nine) for the Court to agree to take the case (called "certiorari"), but five votes to grant a stay of execution. And only four justices voted to grant Warner's stay: Justices Sotomayor (authoring), joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, author of the Warner dissent
Source:  Wikimedia