Friday, March 29, 2019

Supreme Court Says Inmate Is Entitled To His Spiritual Adviser In Execution Chamber

Late last night, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 7-2 vote, ruled in favor of Buddhist prisoner Patrick Murphy who wanted his Buddhist spiritual adviser to be present in the execution chamber when his execution, scheduled for last night, was carried out. A Texas federal district court had upheld the decision of prison authorities to allow only the prison's Christian chaplain to be in the room with Murphy. His Buddhist clergyman could be in the adjacent viewing room. (See prior posting.) In Murphy v. Collier, (Sup. Ct., March 28, 2019), the U.S. Supreme Court held:
The State may not carry out Murphy’s execution pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari unless the State permits Murphy’s Buddhist spiritual advisor or another Buddhist reverend of the State’s choosing to accompany Murphy in the execution chamber during the execution.
Justices Thomas and Gorsuch voted against granting a stay of execution. Justice Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion, saying in part:
For this kind of claim, there would be at least two possible equal-treatment remedies available to the State going forward: (1) allow all inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room; or (2) allow inmates to have a religious adviser, including any state-employed chaplain, only in the viewing room, not the execution room.... [T]here are operational and security issues associated with an execution by lethal injection. Things can go wrong and sometimes do go wrong in executions, as they can go wrong and sometimes do go wrong in medical procedures. States therefore have a strong interest in tightly controlling access to an execution room in order to ensure that the execution occurs without any complications, distractions, or disruptions. The solution to that concern would be to allow religious advisers only into the viewing room.
....What the State may not do, in my view, is allow Christian or Muslim inmates but not Buddhist inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room.
The case moved through the Supreme Court rapidly. The district court's decision was handed down on March 26. A petition for a stay was filed and on March 28 Becket filed a 22-page amicus brief with the Supreme Court.  According to Becket, the Supreme Court's decision was handed down two-and-one-half hours after the scheduled start of the execution.