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U.S. Supreme Court rejects challenge to Texas lethal injection drugs

Texas death row inmates lost at the U.S. Supreme Court when the high court denied their petition to challenge the state's execution protocol.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2017.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Texas case that questioned the constitutionality of the state’s execution process.

The lawsuit dated back to 2013, when multiple death row inmates sued the Texas prison system claiming its lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional, in part based on the drugs used in executions. Texas uses pentobarbital compounded at a pharmacy in secret to put inmates to death. 

The inmates claimed that the lack of additional testing of the dose before an execution and the use of old drugs could cause them severe pain. In the last year, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has seemingly pushed back the expiration dates on the compounded drug used in executions twice.

Texas argued that the prisoners did not present an alternative option for use in executions and have only speculated that the drugs could cause pain. After the decision Monday, a spokesman for the department said compounded pentobarbital has been used for years without incident. The case had gone back and forth in lower federal courts, and had largely been rejected by judges. 

Maurie Levin, a lawyer for the inmates, said after the decision that the relevance of the rejected litigation is limited to the drugs used when the lawsuit was filed in 2013 and Texas’ “insistence on dodging accountability and transparency.”

“Texas' current drug supply is so old using it to carry out executions amounts to scientific experimentation, on human beings,” she said in an email. “Unfortunately, I expect we will see increasingly problematic executions - which will only highlight, again, the consequences of Texas's commitment to secrecy above all else.”

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Criminal justice Death penalty Texas death row