POLITICS
08/28/2015 01:16 pm ET

The Supreme Court Has Had Enough Of The Lethal Injection Debate

The justices declined to rehear a controversial June case that upheld Oklahoma's lethal-injection protocol.

The Supreme Court won't be reconsidering an explosive ruling it issued in June that upheld the legality of the lethal injection in Oklahoma. 

In a one-line order on Friday, the court denied rehearing Glossip v. Gross, a fractious decision that commanded five separate opinions, four of which the justices read aloud from the bench on the very last day of the last Supreme Court term.

On paper, the entirety of Glossip ran for 127 pages -- far longer than the decisions on Obamacare and same-sex marriage. Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick, who was in the courtroom when the decision was announced, described the scene as "really weird" -- the tension among the justices was palpable.

The case was controversial because it upheld Oklahoma's use of midazolam, a sedative the petitioning death-row inmates claimed was ineffective in preventing pain. The potential for pain, the inmates argued, violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Writing for the conservative majority, Justice Samuel Alito disagreed and upheld the state's lethal-injection protocol.

But more than the majority's reasoning, what truly made headlines was Justice Stephen Breyer's dissenting opinion, which looked at Glossip's broader picture. Joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he argued that it was "highly likely that the death penalty" is unconstitutional, all but inviting a future legal challenge to the franchise.

But the Supreme Court seldom rehears cases it's already decided. If getting a case accepted by the justices is already hard, getting an already-decided case reheard is nearly impossible and the court has broad discretion in deciding whether it will do so.

Opponents of the death penalty harbored some hope the court might be willing to give the case a second look -- especially after they read Breyer's description of the failures of capital punishment. Breyer's invitation represented "something new," Dale Baich, a federal public defender representing the Glossip inmates, told Legal Times -- a window for him and other lawyers to attempt to get the case before the Supreme Court again.

That effort was shot down by the Supreme Court with Friday's order. 

But the dissent in Glossip lives on: the Connecticut Supreme Court cited the case at length when it ruled earlier this month that the state's imposition of the death penalty is unconstitutional

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