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Supreme Court explains reasoning for earlier execution rulings

By
Danielle Haynes
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh said he voted in favor of staying a Texas execution because the state's policy on chaplains in the execution chamber was unconstitutional. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh said he voted in favor of staying a Texas execution because the state's policy on chaplains in the execution chamber was unconstitutional. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

May 13 (UPI) -- In an unusual move Monday, Supreme Court justices issued followup opinions explaining rulings earlier this year on death row inmates seeking to have spiritual advisers in the execution chamber with them.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh's statement offered an explanation for why he voted in favor of a Texas man's request for a stay but against an Alabama man's stay, both of whom sought reprieves because they weren't allowed to have their spiritual advisers with them.

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Kavanaugh said the reason for his decision to vote for a stay in the Texas case last month is because the inmate, Patrick Murphy, sought the stay because he said he received unequal treatment under the First Amendment because he is a Buddhist. Texas, at the time, allowed only Christian and Muslim spiritual advisers in the execution chamber. Kavanaugh said Murphy also made his request with enough time for the Supreme Court to consider it.

Murphy's case contrasted with one two months earlier in Alabama, when the Supreme Court denied a stay for Domineque Ray, who argued his religious rights were being violated when the state refused to allow an imam in the execution chamber with him.

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"Unlike Ray, Murphy made his request to the state of Texas a full month before his scheduled execution," Kavanaugh wrote. "This court's stay in Murphy's case was appropriate and the stay facilitated a prompt fix to the religious equality problem in Texas' execution protocol."

Less than a week after Murphy's stay, Texas officials banned any chaplain from entering execution chambers. Under the new protocols, Texas Department of Criminal Justice chaplains will be available to the inmates until they are transferred to the execution chamber. Ministers and spiritual advisers also may observe executions from the witness rooms.

Justice Samuel Alito Jr., backed by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, responded to Kavanaugh's statement Monday, saying that regardless of the constitutionality of Texas' former protocol, both executions should have gone forward. He cited the "damaging practice" of last-minute stay applications.

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"I did not agree with the decision of the court when it was made" in the Murphy case, Alito wrote. "Because inexcusably late stay applications present a recurring and important problem and because religious liberty claims like Murphy's may come before the court in future cases, I write now to explain why, in my judgment, the court's decision in this case was seriously wrong."

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