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Supreme Court refuses voter ID case, upholds execution drug and Arizona redistricting law

Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a new case on voter registration in Arizona and Kansas, meaning the two states will not be able to require applicants to show proof of citizenship.
By rejecting a joint appeal by the states, the high court left in place a November 2014 ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeals court decided that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency that oversees changes to state voter registration procedures, was not required to grant the states' request that proof of citizenship be added to registration requirements.
An earlier version of the legal battle made it to the high court in 2013. Then, the court struck down an Arizona law that required people registering to vote in federal elections to show proof of citizenship. In the ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia had said that Arizona could ask the federal commission to include a citizenship provision on the federal form.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a drug used by Oklahoma as part of its lethal injection procedure does not violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, dealing a setback to opponents of the death penalty.

The court, in a 5-4 decision with its conservative justices in the majority, handed a loss to three inmates who objected to the use of a sedative called midazolam, saying it cannot achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, making it unsuitable for executions.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote on behalf of the court that the inmates had, among other things, failed to show that there was an alternative method of execution available that would be less painful.

In a dissenting opinion, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said the court should consider whether the death penalty itself is constitutional. He was joined by one of his colleagues, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The three-drug process used by Oklahoma prison officials has been under scrutiny since the April 2014 botched execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. He could be seen twisting on the gurney after death chamber staff failed to place the intravenous line properly.

Inmates Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole challenged the procedure. Glossip arranged for his employer to be beaten to death. Grant stabbed a correctional worker to death. Cole killed his 9-month-old daughter.

The main question before the nine justices was whether the use of midazolam violates the Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

"I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment," Breyer wrote.

Justice Antonin Scalia responded to Breyer in a separate concurring opinion. Scalia said Breyer's arguments were full of "internal contradictions" and were "gobbledy-gook."

The case did not address the constitutionality of the death penalty in general, but it brought fresh attention to the ongoing debate over whether the death penalty should continue in the United States at a time when most developed countries have abandoned it. During the oral argument in April, conservative Justice Samuel Alito said the challenge to the drug was part of a “guerrilla war” against the death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a voter-approved plan that stripped Arizona state lawmakers of their role in drawing congressional districts in a bid to remove partisan politics from the process.

The court, split 5-4, ruled that the ballot initiative did not violate the U.S. Constitution's requirement that state legislatures set congressional district boundaries.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, with the court’s four liberals joined by conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy.
She wrote that the Constitution's language giving legislatures the role of setting the "times, places and manner" of federal elections refers not to a specific legislative body but instead to a state’s general authority to legislate on the issue, which could include a voter-led initiative.
The state's Republican-controlled legislature objected to a 2000 ballot initiative endorsed by Arizona voters that set up an independent commission to determine the U.S. House of Representatives districts.
The commission was created as part of an effort to eliminate partisan redistricting by whichever party happened to control the state legislature when new congressional districts had to be drawn. The case could affect similar commissions a handful of other states.
Critics say partisan "gerrymandering" leads to House districts being drawn in a way intended to give the party controlling the legislature the maximum number of seats possible while marginalizing voters favoring the other party.
In February 2014, a special three-judge panel of the U.S. district court in Arizona ruled in favor of the commission.
Four of the five members of the independent panel are selected by senior members of the legislature of both parties from a list of candidates picked by a state committee that vets appeals court judge applicants. The fifth is picked by the other four commission members from the same list.

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