A series of late night actions from the Supreme Court allowed Arkansas to execute an inmate for the first time since 2005.
Arkansas officials executed Ledell Lee, a convicted killer, on Thursday night, following a series of orders from the Supreme Court that permitted Lee's execution to proceed before the lethal injection drugs expire at the end of the month. In a last minute challenge of Arkansas' executions, the high court split 5-4 with new Justice Neil Gorsuch joining his four Republican-appointed colleagues in the majority. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
"Arkansas set out to execute eight people over the course of 11 days. Why these eight? Why now? The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes or with the presence (or absence) of mitigating behavior," Breyer wrote in dissent. "It has nothing to do with their mental state. It has nothing to do with the need for speedy punishment. Four have been on death row for over 20 years. All have been housed in solitary confinement for at least 10 years. Apparently the reason the State decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the 'use by' date of the State's execution drug is about to expire."
He continued: "In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random."
Gorsuch's vote that proved decisive in the Arkansas executions marks the first big 5-4 vote the Supreme Court has taken since Gorsuch's joining the high court restored a full nine-justice court.