On Monday, the D.C.-based federal Judge Tanya Chutkan issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration from carrying out an execution that had been planned for Monday afternoon. She’d issued a similar order late last year, after the Trump administration announced that they would be resuming executions after not a single instance of capital punishment had been carried out by federal authorities since 2003. Chutkan’s previous injunction was overturned by an appeals court, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, seemingly leaving the situation in these lower court jurisdictions.
The Trump administration “immediately appealed to a higher court, asking that the executions move forward,” NBC reports, but Chutkan explains that “the public is not served by short-circuiting legitimate judicial process” and issues that have been under the microscope amidst challenges to the proposed executions have yet to be effectively dealt with.
Chutkan’s ruling reads, in part:
‘The last-minute nature of this ruling is unfortunate, but no fault of the Plaintiffs. The succession of last-minute rulings is the result of the Government’s decision to set short execution dates even as many claims, including those addressed here, were pending. The Government is entitled to choose dates, but the court cannot take short cuts in its obligations in order to accommodate those dates.’
The execution that had been previously been scheduled for Monday afternoon was set to be the culmination of the case of Danny Lee, a man who’d been convicted of murdering three people in 1996. Family members of the victims are among those who have challenged the execution plans. Besides their own opposition to the death penalty in the first place — they’ve advocated for a life sentence for the murderer — the family members also argued that they’d be put at undue risk of Coronavirus infection if they had to travel in order to attend the execution.
Monica Veillette, a relative of the murder victims, has explained:
‘For us it is a matter of being there and saying, “This is not being done in our name; we do not want this.”‘
Family attorney Baker Kurrus added:
‘The federal government has put this family in the untenable position of choosing between their right to witness Danny Lee’s execution and their own health and safety.’
The federal government, of course, doesn’t seem to care. The new executions follow a nationwide review of the death penalty that had been undertaken during the Obama administration after an execution was bungled in Oklahoma in 2014. Now, NBC adds, discussing the Trump administration’s decision to try and move forward:
‘Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency around a topic that isn’t high on the list of American concerns right now. It is also likely to add a new front to the national conversation about criminal justice reform in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.’
Other challenges to the planned executions have come from the inmates themselves, whose legal teams have argued against the Trump administration’s rush to kickstart executions. They argued “that the government was circumventing proper methods in order to wrongly execute inmates quickly,” as NBC explains.