Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Condemns Conservative Majority’s Decision To Allow Human ‘Guinea Pig’ Execution

Last month, the Supreme Court filed an execution order that was split 6-3 along party lines. The Republican-appointed majority approved what Justice Sonia Sotomayor referred to as an “experiment with human life.”

The majority rejected a stay for Alabama plaintiff James Barber, who was sentenced to execution by lethal injection and argued that the decision violated the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.

Barber offered multiple examples of botched attempts at the procedure in Alabama, where prison officials “spent multiple hours digging for prisoners’ veins in an attempt to set IV lines,” as Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.

The Supreme Court ruled that Barber’s execution would stand, as he could help point to what happened in prior instances and identify what steps would be necessary to remediate the procedure.


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“The Court should not allow Alabama to test the efficacy of its internal review by using Barber as its ‘guinea pig,'” wrote Sotomayor. This is not the first time that the conservative-led court has allowed executions to proceed, despite serious doubts about the effectiveness and humaneness of the process.

Sotomayor was joined in her dissent by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. 

Barber was convicted of capital murder in 2001. He was executed by the state of Alabama last month.

Ava Lombardi

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