April 16, 2008

Opinion of the Chief Justice announcing the judgment of the Court

“Some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution—no matter how humane—if only from the prospect of error in following the required procedure. It is clear, then, that the Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions.”

Concurring Opinion of Justice Alito

“The issue presented in this case—the constitutionality of a method of execution—should be kept separate from the controversial issue of the death penalty itself. If the Court wishes to reexamine the latter issue, it should do so directly, as JUSTICE STEVENS now suggests.”

Concurring Opinion of Justice Stevens

“The risk of executing innocent defendants can be entirely eliminated by treating any penalty more severe than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as constitutionally excessive.”

Concurring Opinion of Justice Scalia

“I take no position on the desirability of the death penalty, except to say that its value is eminently debatable and the subject of deeply, indeed passionately, held views—which means, to me, that it is preeminently not a matter to be resolved here. And especially not when it is explicitly permitted by the Constitution.”

Concurring Opinion of Justice Thomas

“[A] method of execution violates the Eighth Amendment only if it is deliberately designed to inflict pain… .”

Concurring Opinion of Justice Breyer

“The death penalty itself, of course, brings with it serious risks, for example, risks of executing the wrong person, risks that unwarranted animus (in respect, e.g., to the race of victims), may play a role, risks that those convicted will find themselves on death row for many years, perhaps decades, to come. These risks in part explain why that penalty is so controversial. But the lawfulness of the death penalty is not before us.”

Dissenting Opinion of Justice Ginsburg

“Kentucky’s protocol lacks basic safeguards used by other States to confirm that an inmate is unconscious before injection of the second and third drugs. I would vacate and remand with instructions to consider whether Kentucky’s omission of those safeguards poses an untoward, readily avoidable risk of inflicting severe and unnecessary pain.”

Read the entire opinion.