No one on the Supreme Court objected publicly when the justices voted to let Arizona proceed with the execution of Joseph Wood, who unsuccessfully sought information about the drugs that would be used to kill him.
Inmates in Florida and Missouri went to their deaths by lethal injection in the preceding weeks after the high court refused to block their executions. Again, no justice said the executions should be stopped.
Even as the number of executions annually has dropped by more than half over the past 15 years and the court has barred states from killing juveniles and the mentally disabled, no justice has emerged as a principled opponent of the death penalty.
This court differs from some of its predecessors. Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissented every time their colleagues ruled against death row inmates, and Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens, near the end of their long careers, came to view capital punishment as unconstitutional.
Wood’s execution on July 23 was the 26th in the United States this year and the third in which prisoners took much longer than usual to die. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she and her colleagues are aware of what happened in Arizona, though she declined to say how the court would rule on a plea to stop the next scheduled execution — of Michael Worthington on Wednesday in Missouri.
Ginsburg cautioned not to read too much into the absence of public dissent when the court rejects 11th-hour appeals to stop executions. “When a stay is denied, it doesn’t mean we are in fact unanimous,” she said.