The US Supreme Court sided with lower courts to keep executions of federal inmates temporarily on hold. The decision spoiled the Trump administration's plan to execute five federal inmates in the coming weeks.
The US Supreme Court on Friday temporarily blocked White House plans to reinstate executions for federal death row inmates.
Attorney General William Barr had announced in July that a federal review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs, commissioned by former President Barack Obama in 2014, had concluded and paved the way for resuming executions.
The executions of five federal inmates were scheduled to take place between December 9 and January 15.
But four of the death row inmates challenged the legality of the lethal injection protocol and lower courts stayed the executions, effectively placing them on hold. The Trump administration took the matter to the Supreme Court, but the nine justices ultimately backed the lower court decisions.
In the ruling, the Supreme Court justices directed the appeals court now in charge of ruling on the case to act "with appropriate dispatch'' in resolving the matter.
"The courts have made clear that the government cannot rush executions in order to avoid judicial review of the legality and constitutionality of its new execution procedure," said Shawn Nolan, a lawyer for one of the inmates.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the White House would continue to push the issue in the courts. ''While we are disappointed with the ruling, we will argue the case on its merits in the DC Circuit and, if necessary, the Supreme Court," Kupec said in a statement.
Trump favors death penalty
If the five executions had gone forward, it would have marked a dramatic uptick in the use of capital punishment by the US government.
The last time a federal inmate was executed was in 2003 and since 1998, only three federal defendants have faced the death penalty.
President Donald Trump strongly favors the death penalty, a type of punishment that is also backed by six in 10 Americans, though support has declined since the 1990s.
While capital punishment has been abolished in the European Union, it is still considered constitutional in the US. The Supreme Court struck the death penalty down in 1972 on technicalities, but since then some states have gradually made enough changes to state laws to restore it.
Today, each state can make its own decision on the matter. Some 25 US states, including Florida and Texas, maintain the death penalty, while 21 states, including New York and Illinois, have abolished it.
California is one of four states where the death penalty is still legal, but a moratorium on the practice has been imposed.
jcg/dr (AP, AFP, Reuters)