Washington — The Supreme Court on Monday turned away a challenge to the Trump administration’s efforts to resume federal executions, paving the way for the Justice Department to end its effective freeze on capital punishment next month.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would take up the appeal from four death-row inmates.
The Justice Department announced nearly a year ago that it would restart federal executions in death penalty cases after a 16-year lapse, as the Bureau of Prisons had adopted a new execution protocol. The department then scheduled executions starting in December for five death-row inmates who were convicted of murdering children.
But the Trump administration’s attempts to resume capital punishment became the subject of court challenges, as four inmates sought to block the use of the new protocol in their executions. Last year, a federal judge in Washington blocked the Justice Department from carrying out the executions, ruling the protocol did not comply with the Federal Death Penalty Act, a 1994 law that requires the federal government impose a death sentence “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed.”
A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the Supreme Court declined to lift the hold late last year, temporarily blocking the Trump administration from ending the informal freeze on capital punishment. But in April, the D.C. Circuit tossed out the lower court’s order.
Earlier this month, Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule new dates for executions of four death-row inmates, three of whom were involved in the case before the Supreme Court, starting in mid-July.
In refusing to take up the appeal from four of the prisoners, the Supreme Court leaves in place the ruling from the D.C. Circuit in favor of the Trump administration.