Opinion: Remember that moment of death penalty sanity in Oklahoma? It went away.
Score this Secrecy 1, Transparency 0. Earlier this week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court stepped up and issued an indefinite stay of execution for convicted rapist-murderer Clayton Lockett, to provide time to review a lower court ruling that the state’s law masking the supplier of execution drugs was unconstitutional.
The issue comes down to transparency. With the growing shortage of execution drugs, driven by manufacturers’ reluctance to provide them to prisons, states are having trouble buying what they need to kill inmates.
Some, including Oklahoma, have turned to compounding pharmacies, whose main business is tailoring drugs for patients for whom the manufactured drugs don’t work or cause avoidable side effects. But state laws in Oklahoma and elsewhere keep those providers secret. Big deal, right?
Well, it is. The condemned can’t know if their constitutional right to not suffer from cruel and unusual punishment will be violated if they don’t know the compound with which they will be killed, which in effect denies them due process, another constitutional guarantee.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court made the right decision Tuesday in issuing the stay until those issues could be digested. A short time later, though, Gov. Mary Fallin announced that the Supreme Court lacked the authority to stay the execution, and issued her own seven-day stay (after which Lockett presumably would be executed). Then a legislator introduced a bill to start the impeachment process against the Supreme Court judges who voted to stay the execution.
Late Wednesday, the Supreme Court reached the hasty -- and wrong -- conclusion that Lockett and another condemned murderer, Charles Warner, do not have a right to know how the killing drugs were made. The court simultaneously lifted its stay of execution, allowing a day or so for another appeal before the decision is final. The governor announced Thursday that the two men would be executed Tuesday.
So the judicial process appears to have been hijacked by the political process, leading to a rushed decision that two men should be killed by the state with unvetted drugs, and with a crass disregard for constitutional rights.
Regardless of your stance on the death penalty, these are not the acts of a deliberative judicial system.
Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle
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