Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist on Wednesday called for stricter regulation by the nation's courts of last-gasp appeals filed by Death Row inmates.
Rehnquist said he intends to ask a group of judges to study "the possibility of imposing some reasonable regulations in a situation which is disjointed and chaotic."
In a speech prepared for delivery to the National Conference of Chief Justices, meeting in Williamsburg, Va., Rehnquist decried "the sort of chaotic conditions that often develop within a day or two before an execution is scheduled."
Too Little Time
"The practical result of this is that judges of both state and federal courts are called upon to make important constitutional decisions, often without as much time as would be ideal for making them," Rehnquist said.
"We judges have no right to insist that matters such as these proceed at a leisurely pace . . . but I think we do have a claim to have explored the possibility of imposing some reasonable regulations," he said.
"I do not have any particular remedy in mind, but I would welcome receiving suggestions on the subject," the chief justice added.
He said he would ask a committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policy-making arm of the federal judiciary, to study the issue. The committee is composed of federal and state judges.
2,000 on Death Rows
Thirty-seven states have capital punishment laws, and nearly 2,000 people are on Death Rows nationwide. States have executed 94 murderers since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed resumption of capital punishment.