WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to consider the constitutionality of lethal injections in a case that could affect the way inmates are executed around the country.
The high court will hear a challenge from two inmates on death row in Kentucky Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. who sued Kentucky in 2004, claiming lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
Baze has been scheduled for execution Tuesday night, but the Kentucky Supreme Court halted the proceedings earlier this month.
The court has previously made it easier for death row inmates to contest the lethal injections used across the country for executions.
But until Tuesday, the justices had never agreed to consider the fundamental question of whether the mix of drugs used in Kentucky and elsewhere violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Baze and Bowling say the procedure inflicts unnecessary pain and suffering on the inmate.
The two inmates sued in 2004 and a trial was held the following spring. A state judge upheld the use of lethal injection and the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed that decision. The appeal taken up Tuesday stems from that decision.
"This is probably one of the most important cases in decades as it relates to the death penalty," said David Barron, the public defender who represents Baze and Bowling.
U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled last week that the Tennessee's method of lethal injection is unconstitutional and ordered the state not to execute a death row inmate. The state is still deciding whether to appeal the judge's ruling, but agreed to stop a pending execution.
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