The Supreme Court on Monday found that a lethal injection drug used by Oklahoma does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, a ruling that provoked a caustic debate among the justices about the death penalty in America.
The 5-4 ruling, with the court’s five conservatives in the majority, prompted liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to say for the first time they believe capital punishment as currently practiced may be unconstitutional. They are the only members of the court to have expressed such views.
The decision was a defeat for death penalty foes and for the three death row inmates who challenged the use of a sedative called midazolam as part of Oklahoma’s lethal injection process, saying it cannot achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, making it unsuitable for executions.
In another ruling, The Supreme Court said Monday it will dive back into the fight over the use of race in admissions at the University of Texas, a decision that presages tighter limits on affirmative action in higher education.
The justices said they will hear for a second time the case of a white woman who was denied admission to the university’s flagship Austin campus.
The conservative-leaning federal appeals court in New Orleans has twice upheld the university’s admissions process, including in a ruling last year that followed a Supreme Court order to reconsider the woman’s case.
The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, 14-981, will be argued in the fall.
The Supreme Court also ruled Monday against the Obama administration’s attempt to limit power-plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants, but it may only be a temporary setback for regulators.
The justices split 5-4 along ideological lines to rule that the Environmental Protection Agency failed to take cost into account when it first decided to regulate the toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired plants.