Monday status conference: lethal injection ‘cruel and unusual?’

Today the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the case that has caused the Court to stay numerous executions in recent months: Baze v. Rees.

This morning the justices of the Court will hear oral arguments from attorneys representing two Kentucky inmates who claim that the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injection executions – one drug renders the person unconscious, another paralyzes the person, and the third stops the heart – amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment” and violates the Eighth Amendment. The drugs, they argue, could paralyze the inmate, making it impossible for him or her to indicate excessive pain. In the meantime, they argue the agent that brings death can take up to an hour to work.

In oral argument today, counsel for the inmates will try to convince the justices to adopt the standards that an Eighth Amendment violation occurs when there is “unnecessary risk of pain and suffering as opposed to only a substantial risk of the wanton infliction of pain.”

Attorneys for the state of Kentucky – which is supported by the Justice Department as amicus curiae – argues that the procedure is humane. The standards they suggest using to determine whether there is an Eighth Amendment violation, the state will argue, is whether there is a “substantial risk of wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain, torture, or lingering death.”

DC Dicta will have more on the argument later today. The U.S. Supreme Court is also taking the unusual step of releasing the audio recording of the argument today at about 11:15 a.m., and that will be broadcast on C-SPAN’s website.

In other news:

It’s was the subject of countless news stories, brought an end to the seemingly unstoppable housing boom, and caused some law firms to develop new practice areas devoted to it. Now “subprime” has officially been chosen as the word of the year 2007. More from ABC News.

The 2010 census is expected to show a population shift that would give more House seats – and thus more congressional power – to the southern states, while the north stands to lose, the Associated Press reports. More on the breakdown which states could win and which states could lose.

Congress is still out this week, but most of the nation’s political focus is on New Hampshire right now anyway. More from NPR.

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