On April 17, the Supreme Court prevented the state from carrying out seven executions in 11 days by ruling not to lift the court order placed by a federal appeals court, according to CNN. According to the Washington Post, the high court’s decision was released 15 minutes before the execution warrant expired.
Midazolam, a sedative that Arkansas has never used before, is one of three drugs used in Arkansas’ lethal injection cocktail, along with vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Arkansas’ supply of Midazolam expires on April 30, and the drug supplier refuses to sell more to Arkansas.
The ethical practice and carryout of the decision has been debated and the court system is dealing with the unique nature of the executions and plans to act quickly, as the expiration date for the drugs approaches.
“If a stay is granted, then the drugs are going to expire at the end of the month, and the state may not be able to go through with the executions at all,” professor of criminal justice Matthew Swindle said. “Depending on its ability to find a replacement source of Midazolam.”
To further complicate matters, a duo of pharmaceutical companies, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp., are seeking to block the executions on the grounds that both likely manufactured Arkansas’ supply of potassium chloride and Midazolam respectively, according to THV11.
“The use of the medicines in lethal injections runs counter to the manufacturers’ mission to save and enhance patients’ lives, and carries with it not only a public health risk, but also reputational, fiscal and legal risks,” both companies said in their filing to the court.
Arkansas’ law prevents any public knowledge of the source of the drugs. U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker ruled in the men’s request to halt the executions on April 14. Although Judge Baker decided to halt the executions, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has remained firm on his position to continue the scheduling of the executions, expressing his opinion that the issue is timing, not the trial.
“But if you think about that, if I had chosen to spread it out over four months or six months, would that have made any difference to the death penalty opponents who are coming in protesting this?” Hutchinson said in a news conference on April 13 at the Governor’s Mansion. “Would it have changed any of the circumstances or their views on this or made it any more acceptable to them? I don’t think so.”
While both state and federal rulings have now blocked the state’s execution plans, Hutchinson vowed to continue efforts, according to CNN. The executions would have been the first in Arkansas since 2005, and it would have been the most executions performed by a state in 11 days in modern history.