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Court will eye injections, voter IDs

Two cases center on cruel and unusual punishment. ID issue focuses on fairness.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to consider the constitutionality of lethal injections in a case that could affect the way inmates are executed around the country.

The high court will hear a challenge from two inmates on death row in Kentucky — Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. — who sued Kentucky in 2004, claiming lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The court also agreed Tuesday to decide whether voter identification laws unfairly deter the poor and minorities from voting, stepping into a contentious partisan issue in advance of the 2008 elections.

Baze has been scheduled for execution Tuesday night, but the Kentucky Supreme Court halted the proceedings earlier this month.

The U.S. Supreme Court has previously made it easier for death row inmates to contest the lethal injections used across the country for executions.

But until Tuesday, the justices had never agreed to consider the fundamental question of whether the mix of drugs used in Kentucky and elsewhere violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled last week that Tennessee’s method of lethal injection is unconstitutional and ordered the state not to execute a death row inmate using that method. The state is still deciding whether to appeal the judge’s ruling, but agreed to stop a pending execution.

A ruling from California in the case of convicted killer Michael Morales resulted in the statewide suspension of executions.

Also, the justices will hear arguments early next year in a challenge to an Indiana law that requires voters to present photo ID before casting their ballots. The state has defended the law as a way to combat voter fraud.

The state Democratic Party and civil rights groups complained that the law unfairly targets poor and minority voters, without any evidence that in-person voter fraud exists in Indiana. The party argued that those voters tend to be Democrats.

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