Death Row Inmates not guaranteed a ‘painless’ execution under the Constitution


In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court recently gave the final verdict for the Bucklew v. Precythe case. They shockingly rejected Russell Bucklew’s appeal for an alternative method of execution. Bucklew, who is on death row for a 1996 murder, argued that death by lethal injection could cause him to hemorrhage and suffocate due to a rare disease that has caused tumors to grow inside his throat. His lawyers asserted that the nature of such an act would be cruel and unusual punishment thereby violating the eighth amendment.


(Photo by Anna Sullivan on


This case drew a significant ideological line within the court. Conservative Justices asserted that death row inmates constantly use last-minute appeals to delay their executions. Justice Neil. M Gorsuch stated that Bucklew waited until 12 days before his execution to appeal despite being on death row for the past 18 years. This subsequently led to 5 years of litigation.


(Photo from The New York Times)


Gorsuch stated in court that, “the 8th Amendment has never been understood to guarantee a condemned inmate a painless death.”


While Bucklew's lawyers suggested lethal gas as an alternative method for execution, they failed to present evidence that proved it would be a less painful method. Gorsuch said that the Constitution does not “require a state to develop a novel method of execution.”


Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that there are “higher values than ensuring executions run on time.” Justice Stephen G. Breyer also argued that the eighth amendment “is not a static prohibition,” rather it “forbids punishments that would be considered cruel and unusual today.”


Bucklew’s execution has been a prime topic around the nation, creating controversy around the interpretation of the Constitution.