Hill v. McDonough

Yesterday the Supreme Court decided Hill v. McDonough. In its unanimous opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that a death-row inmate could invoke section 1983 to seek an injunction against Florida’s method of three-drug lethal injection, which, the inmate contended, caused intense pain in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The district court and the Eleventh Circuit had dismissed the inmate’s action on the ground that it was the functional equivalent of a habeas petition and, since the inmate had already sought habeas relief, the claim was barred as a successive petition.

In reinstating the inmate’s section 1983 suit, Justice Kennedy reasoned that the inmate’s claim was not a challenge to his actual sentence (the subject of a habeas petition) but only to the mode in which the state sought to carry it out.

Though the holding of the case is narrow, and the Court expressed no view on the merits of the Eighth Amendment claim, it’s rare to see a unanimous decision in a death penalty case.

More evidence perhaps that Justice Roberts’ magic dust is working.

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