Tag Archives: Alabama
Death Penalty States Beware: Nitrogen Hypoxia Is Not the Solution to America’s Long History of Inhumane Executions

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses the recent adoption of nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution in several U.S. states, focusing on Alabama’s recent executions and other states considering or implementing this method. Professor Sarat argues that, despite proponents’ claims, nitrogen hypoxia is not a humane or problem-free method of execution, but instead echoes the unfulfilled promises made about previous execution methods like electrocution, gas chambers, and lethal injection.

Alabama Should Not Be Allowed to Carry Out Another Nitrogen Hypoxia Execution

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on a lawsuit filed by David Phillip Wilson, currently on Alabama’s death row for a 2004 murder, claiming that Alabama’s plan to execute him by nitrogen gas violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Professor Sarat notes the state’s problematic history with gas executions and the recent painful, 22-minute execution of Kenneth Smith by nitrogen gas, and argues that Wilson’s lawsuit makes a compelling case that nitrogen hypoxia presents a substantial risk of severe pain and suffering.

“Extrauterine Children” and Other Nonsense Wrought by the Fetal Personhood Movement

Stanford Law visiting professor Joanna L. Grossman and 3L Sarah F. Corning comment on the Alabama Supreme Court’s questionable ruling in LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine that frozen embryos qualify as children under the state’s wrongful death statute, effectively granting embryos full personhood status, a decision aligned with anti-abortion efforts to establish fetal personhood legally. Professor Grossman and Ms. Corning point out that this ruling reflects broader national debates and legal challenges around fetal personhood and poses significant implications for reproductive rights, fertility treatments, and the legal recognition of embryos and fetuses. They suggest that it could even lead to the restriction or closure of fertility treatment centers in Alabama and influence future court interpretations related to abortion and reproductive technologies.

The Gas Chamber, 100 Years of Cruelty

Amherst professor Austin Sarat reflects on the 100-year history of gas chamber executions in the United States, highlighting the method’s failure to provide a humane and reliable form of capital punishment despite initial claims, and marking the recent revival of its use in Alabama as a continuation of this problematic legacy. Professor Sarat details the origins and implementation of gas chambers, including the first execution of Gee Jon in Nevada and the various adaptations states made over the years, culminating in a critique of lethal gas as an inhumane method that has consistently resulted in torture and botched executions.

Another New Execution Method, Another Botched Execution

Amherst professor Austin Sarat laments the continued occurrence of botched executions in the United States, focusing on the recent introduction of nitrogen hypoxia in Alabama, which resulted in another failed attempt. Professor Sarat describes the disturbing details of Kenneth Smith’s execution, where the promise of a quick and painless death by nitrogen hypoxia was broken, leading to a prolonged and torturous process, thus adding to the history of failed executions with new methods in the United States.

Alabama’s Plan to Use Nitrogen Hypoxia to Kill Kenneth Smith Draws International Condemnation

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses international condemnation of Alabama’s planned execution of Kenneth Smith using nitrogen hypoxia, a method untested in executions—highlighting the broader issue of the United States’ isolated stance on capital punishment among constitutional democracies. Professor Sarat details Smith’s case, noting a previous failed execution attempt and the criticism from UN experts, the Catholic association Community of Sant’Egidio, and the European Union, all emphasizing the inhumanity and potential violation of international human rights laws in using such an experimental method for execution.

Alabama Acknowledges Dangers of Nitrogen Hypoxia Executions But Wants to Carry One Out Anyway

Amherst professor Austin Sarat discusses Alabama’s plan to use nitrogen hypoxia for the first time in the execution of Kenneth Smith, raising concerns about its safety and humanity. The method has prompted criticism, including a lawsuit by Reverend Jeff Hood, who argues that Alabama’s requirement for him to maintain distance during the execution infringes on religious liberties and creates a hostile environment for spiritual advisers. Professor Sarat highlights the untested nature of nitrogen hypoxia, its potential for causing seizures and suffocation, and the broader ethical issues surrounding the continued search for a “humane” method of execution.

What We Can Learn About the Death Penalty from the Cases of Two People Scheduled to be Executed Today

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on some lessons we should learn from the cases of two people scheduled to be executed today, July 20, 2023. Professor Sarat points out that the two cases—James Barber and Jemaine Cannon—demonstrate, respectively, that we are not executing “the worst of the worst” and that the execution methods we use are unreliable at best.

A Decade After Gutting the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice Roberts Rescues It

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the Supreme Court’s decision in Allen v. Milligan, in which Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for a 5-4 majority of the Court, reaffirming a key precedent that allows Voting Rights Act (VRA) plaintiffs to sue to block legislative redistricting maps that have the effect of diluting minority voting strength. Professor Dorf expresses optimism that this decision might signal that the Chief Justice and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the only Republican-appointed Justice who joined the majority, are not moving ideologically to the right as radically as their other colleagues on the Court.

Alabama Death Penalty Case Reveals Clarence Thomas’s Cruelty

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent from the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Alabama’s use of lethal injection as a method of execution. Professor Sarat argues that Justice Thomas has seldom come across a death sentence he wouldn’t uphold or an execution he wouldn’t try to expedite—and his opinion in this case was no exception.

Alabama’s Latest Steps to Use Nitrogen Hypoxia Recapitulate the Failed Promise of Humane Execution

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on recent news that Arkansas was “close” to completing the protocol needed to carry out executions by nitrogen hypoxia. Professor Sarat points out that nearly every method of execution was touted as “humane” when it was first introduced, but as history has proven time and time again, there is no such thing as a foolproof or humane execution.

Alabama Needs to Change Course and Clean Up Its Death Penalty Mess

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on a recent petition by 170 faith leaders in Alabama asking Governor Kay Ivey to create an independent commission to study and address Alabama’s death penalty problems. Professor Sarat describes the recent botched executions in that state and laments that their eloquent appeal seems likely to fall on deaf ears in a state that is not yet ready to clean up its death penalty mess.

Alabama’s Plan to Execute Kenneth Smith May Be Legal, But It Is Not Just

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on the case of Kenneth Smith, whom Alabama plans to execute by lethal injection on November 17 based on a judge’s decision overriding a jury’s determination that he be sentenced to life in prison rather than death. Professor Sarat explains why such judicial override cases are so unjust, particularly given that Alabama has repealed judicial override (but not retroactively).

The Supreme Court’s Cold Indifference in Alabama Death Penalty Case

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on Alabama’s recent aborted execution of Alan Miller. Professor Sarat describes how the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Miller’s execution to go forward despite a serious dispute about whether Miller submitted a form electing an execution method other than lethal injection.

Cover-Up, Double-Talk, and Trial and Error Mark Lethal Injection’s Current Crisis

Amherst professor Austin Sarat comments on Alabama’s recent botched execution of Joe Nathan James, which may have been the longest execution in American history. Professor Sarat argues that the cover-up, double-talk, and trial-and-error approach that mark lethal injection’s recent history mean that problems of the kind that occurred in the James execution will keep happening unless we stop using lethal injection altogether.

What’s Missing in the Alabama Human Life Protection Act?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some ideological inconsistencies with the abortion law recently passed in Alabama, which prohibits all abortions except those necessary to protect against a serious health risk to the pregnant woman. Colb points out if an embryo or fetus and the woman carrying it are equally entitled to exist, then the exception for the serious health risk to the woman is inconsistent with that perceived equality. Colb also argues that the decision of Alabama lawmakers to penalize the abortion provider but not the abortion seeker similarly requires accepting on some level that a woman and her embryo or fetus are not co-equal occupants, which is inconsistent with the pro-life vision behind Alabama’s law.

What the Alabama Confederate Memorial Case Says About Modern Constitutional Doctrine

Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why a recent decision by an Alabama trial court was constitutionally misguided while also illustrating some of the prominent and problematic features of modern First Amendment and federalism doctrines. Amar describes the reasoning behind the ruling, points out the flaws in the analysis, and then offers two takeaway points that we might learn from the opinion.

Does the Constitution Permit a State to Abolish Marriage?

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether, in protest of the Supreme Court’s recognition of the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, states can “get out of the marriage business” altogether. Dorf explains that abolishing marriage for everyone likely poses no equal protection issues, and points out some interesting and unique characteristics about marriage as a fundamental right.

A Dozen (or so) Thoughts on Senate Expulsion (With Special Reference to the Roy Moore Affair)

Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers some thoughts on the divisive ongoing conversation about the possibility of the Senate voting to expel Senate candidate Roy Moore from Alabama, if he should win next month’s special election. Amar looks at the history of the practice of Senate expulsion, as well as some of the uncertainties that surround it.

Got Milk? Eleventh Circuit Holds That Discrimination Because of Employee’s Breastfeeding is Unlawful Discrimination

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent decision in which the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recognized that discrimination because of an employee’s breastfeeding constitutes illegal pregnancy discrimination. Grossman explains the facts leading up to the case and explains why the court found that the employer, the Tuscaloosa Police Department, had violated the employee’s rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law and Director of the Center of Labor and... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in... more

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more