Court bans Texas execution of prisoners unless it allows priest’s touch and audible prayer

Opinion Analysis

The Texas State Prison in Huntsville, where the state’s execution chambers are located. (mlsnp via Flickr)

Supreme Court ruling on thursday A man on death row in Texas could have his priest touch him and pray aloud as he is executed.decision in Ramirez v. Collier This is the latest chapter in a nearly three-year dispute over whether there were spiritual advisers at the time of the executions, and the justices appeared to express some disappointment with the case before them. The ruling, which urges states to create clear rules for the future and directs courts to allow executions to be carried out on religiously facilitated circumstances if necessary, brought together justices from both ends of the ideological spectrum, with only Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting.

John Ramirez was sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of convenience store clerk Pablo Castro. As the date of his execution last year approached, Ramirez demanded permission for his priest to put his hand on him and pray loudly in the execution room while giving Ramirez a lethal injection. Ramirez believes that the spiritual comfort of his pastor in the final moments of Ramirez’s life is the foundation of his religious beliefs. The state of Texas rejected his request, citing security concerns, arguing it was too late.

After a lower court sided with the state, Ramirez asked the judges to suspend his execution so they could fully consider his request. On September 8, the judge delayed enforcement, expedited the appeal process, and moved the case from the emergency case to the court’s regular merits case for full briefings and oral arguments.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that Ramirez’s case was “in a preliminary state.” The question before the court is whether to block Ramirez’s execution until the court has fully considered his claims.The court concluded that the answer was yes: Ramirez had shown he was likely to win his claim that the state’s refusal to let his priest touch him and pray loudly in the execution chamber violated Religious Land and Institutionalized Persons Acta federal law protecting the religious rights of prisoners.

Roberts explained that an inmate accused of violating RLUIPA must first show that the prison policy imposes a significant burden on sincere religious belief; if he does, the burden is shifted to the government to show that the policy is promoting strong government interests The narrowest way. Roberts went on to say that Ramirez can live up to that standard. Having a priest lay hands on Ramirez and pray for him would be a “traditional form of religious practice” and state policy would discourage it.

Roberts further observed that “there is a rich history of clerical prayers when prisoners are executed” and while prison officials may have a keen interest in “overseeing executions and responding effectively in any potential emergency,” they have not demonstrated that they need to ban All audible prayers are performed in the execution chamber to promote this interest. In fact, Roberts points out, there are other ways to do this—for example, limiting the number of prayers or asking spiritual counselors to remain silent during critical times.

The same goes for the state’s ban on priests from hitting prisoners, Roberts continued. Roberts conceded that while national interests, such as safety and preventing interference with the IV line in the prisoner’s arm, are “laudable,” there are other ways to address these issues, such as requiring a psychiatrist to limit his contact with the prisoner’s arm. . leg.

Roberts went on to say that the court’s intervention at this preliminary stage was also justified because the consequences of not doing so were so severe for Ramirez: He would be barred from exercising his religious rights at the end of his life. Roberts emphasized that “the damages paid to his estate do not compensate for the damage, which is spiritual, not monetary.” Furthermore, Roberts noted that Ramirez is not seeking to set aside his estate indefinitely. execution.

Roberts rejected the state’s suggestion that Ramirez was not entitled to relief because he waited too long to file a lawsuit. “On the contrary,” Roberts wrote, “Ramirez has been trying to assert his rights for months,” and the state government itself contributed to the delay in the case. More broadly, Roberts suggested that future cases involving similar issues could be resolved quickly if states “adopt clear rules ahead of time.” But when the case did go to federal court, he added, “the appropriate remedy would be to order accommodation, not a moratorium. This approach balances the interest of the state in carrying out the death penalty without delay and that of the prisoner’s religious practice. .”

The court sent the case back to the lower court, and Roberts noted that more lawsuits there “may shed more light on Texas’ interests and whether its policies are tailored.” Meanwhile, Roberts noted that these additional lawsuits would require The timing “may also result in further delays in enforcement of judgments. New York State will have to determine where its future interests lie.”

Thomas is the only opponent. He said Ramirez’s lawsuit was really nothing more than an attempt to delay his execution because he had changed his stance on whether he wanted his advisers to go after him. Thomas noted that the Ramirez lawsuit has caused four other executions in Texas to be delayed because of uncertainty over the state’s death penalty agreement. Thomas argued that the delay in Ramirez’s execution hurt both the state and Ramirez’s victims.

Thomas predicts that the rules outlined by the Supreme Court on Thursday will cause more problems than solve them, as prisoners seek new accommodation approved by the district court. Thomas warned that these prisoners “will then present the state with a stark choice: submit to a court-ordered settlement it deems dangerous, or file a lawsuit and delay enforcement, knowing that delay will work against them in the balance of equity.”

this article is Originally Posted on Howe on the Court.

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