Government Carries Out First Federal Execution Since 2003 After Supreme Court Ruling

( On Tuesday morning, the United States carried out its first federal execution since 2003.

Daniel Lewis Lee, a 47-year-old man of Oklahoma, was pronounced dead on Tuesday morning from lethal injection. He was put to death for killing a family from Arkansas in the 1990s as part of a plot to build a nation of white people only in the Pacific Northwest.

The execution was allowed after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 down party lines to reject Lee’s claim that using pentobarbital for his lethal injection was unconstitutional. He was claiming it was cruel and unjust punishment.

Lee was originally scheduled to be executed on Monday, but U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of the District of Columbia halted it so Lee and other inmates scheduled for federal execution could present his arguments about the drug being used for lethal injection. His claims were that it could cause “extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions.”

While the District Court set up an expedited process to hear the arguments, the Justice Department followed through with an appeal to the Supreme Court.

In an unsigned opinion, the five conservative justices said their role was to “fairly and expeditiously” resolve all challenges to lawful sentences. Whether capital punishment in and of itself is lawful and right is up to legislators. The majority continued:

“In keeping with that responsibility, we vacate the District Court’s preliminary injunction so that the plaintiffs’ executions may proceed as planned.”

All four liberal justices dissented in the case, two of whom said the death penalty itself wasn’t in accordance with the Constitution.

The Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiffs’ challenge to the drug being used for lethal injection wasn’t worthy of consideration because the court had never struck down executions for the methods used. The Eighth Amendment provides protection from “cruel and unusual punishments.”

The Supreme Court said states for many years had sought “new methods, such as lethal injection, thought to be less painful and more humane than traditional methods, like hanging, that have been uniformly regarded as constitutional for centuries.”

The federal government selected pentobarbital in a single dose, which “has become a mainstay of state executions. [It] has been repeatedly invoked by prisoners as a less painful and risky alternative to the lethal injection protocols of other jurisdictions” and “has been used to carry out over 100 executions, without incident.”

The plaintiffs cited experts who said “pentobarbital causes prisoners to experience ‘flash pulmonary edema,’ a form of respiratory distress that temporarily produces the sensation of drowning or asphyxiation.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote one of the dissents, saying the Supreme Court rushed the decision and did harm to future challenges, writing:

“The dangers of that practice are particularly severe here, where the grant of the Government’s emergency application inflicts the most irreparable of harms. The Court forever deprives respondents of their ability to press a constitutional challenge to their lethal injections, and prevents lower courts from reviewing that challenge.”

Two more federal prisoners are scheduled to be executed this week. A fourth is scheduled to be executed in late August.