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By Michael Doyle, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — A bitterly divided Supreme Court on Monday upheld a drug combination used by Oklahoma to execute death row inmates.

In the most closely watched capital punishment case of the court’s term, and one that provoked strong feelings from both sides, a conservative 5-4 majority rejected a challenge to the sedative midazolam.

“The prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain, a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims,” Justice Samuel Alito Jr. wrote.

The case called Glossip v. Gross is the Supreme Court’s first substantive death penalty decision since a 2008 decision that upheld Kentucky’s use of a lethal three-drug cocktail for executions. It brought to the fore intense emotions in a highly unusual scene, as four different justices read parts of their opinions from the bench.

“Rather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution,” Justice Stephen Breyer declared in one of several dissenting opinions.

The decision came on the last day of the court’s term, when justices also upheld an Arizona redistricting commission and struck down EPA clean air rules.

The court’s new death penalty ruling comes about 14 months after Oklahoma’s execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett went horribly awry. Lockett writhed in apparent agony and remained alive for 43 minutes after being injected with an untested combination of chemicals.

The decision issued Monday, on the last day of the court’s 2014-15 term, did not judge the death penalty itself. In a 1976 decision, the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, 1,410 U.S. inmates have been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Instead, the new decision centered on the specific drugs used in lethal injection.

The court previously concluded in the 2008 Kentucky case that only measures that present a “substantial” or “objectively intolerable” risk of serious additional harm violate the Eighth Amendment.

In the botched Locket execution, Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam, along with pancuronium bromide, to paralyze the inmate, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. Midazolam was a substitute. American manufacturers stopped making sodium thiopental, the sedative at issue in the 2008 Kentucky case, and European manufacturers will not export it.

Other states, including Florida and Arizona, also used midazolam in lethal-injection executions last year. Florida Attorney General Pamela Jo Bondi filed a brief supporting Oklahoma’s position, as did the attorneys general for other states including Idaho, Texas, and Georgia.

Still other states have adopted new execution protocols as an alternative to lethal injection, with the Utah Legislature in March approving use of firing squads as a backup method.

The ruling Monday came too late for one of the four inmates named in the original Oklahoma petition, Charles Warner, was executed last January. Warner was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old child.

The other three inmates, Richard E. Glossip, John M. Grant, and Benjamin R. Cole, are still awaiting execution. Glossip, whose name is first on the petition, was convicted in 1998 of first-degree murder. He maintains his innocence.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was on CNN Sunday morning with Jake Tapper on his State of the Union show. In part because Democratic reps, like Republican reps, going on Sunday shows is about this coming election, and in part because newscasters are not particularly deep or creative when it comes to talking about politics, Tapper decided to spend a lot of time trying to get Ocasio-Cortez to attack Joe Biden for their differences of political opinions. Newsflash: Ocasio-Cortez, progressive hero, co-author of the ambitious Green New Deal environmental package, and Vice President Joe Biden aren't exactly on the same page as to how to handle climate change.

More to the point, Tapper asked Ocasio-Cortez whether or not she was bothered by the fact that Biden has not said he would outright ban fracking. The move to ban fracking in states across the country has been a seesaw battle of fossil fuel interests fighting against progressive environmentalism and science. Biden's refusal to provide full-throated support for a ban on fracking is disappointing to many of us on the left, but it isn't surprising. Even more importantly, it is below the most essential first step the progressive movement—and the country for that matter—needs to take: getting rid of Donald Trump and getting rid of the Republican majority in the Senate.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez isn't going to be pulled into a pointless argument about fracking with Jake Tapper. Her position is well-reported. So is Biden's. AOC explains very clearly that this is how politics work in a representative democracy.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It does not bother me. I believe, and I have a very strong position on fracking. You know, the science is very clear, the methane emissions from fracking are up to 64 times more powerful than CO2 emissions and trapping heat in the air, and just from a perspective of stopping climate change there is a scientific consensus. However, that is my view. Vice President Biden has made very clear that he does not agree with the fracking ban and I consider that, you know—it will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House but we need to focus on winning the White House first. I am happy to make my case but I also understand he is in disagreement on that issue.

Tapper wonders whether this will depress the youth vote, a vote that AOC represents more closely than Biden. This, of course, is literally the only reason Trump and his surrogates have been bringing up this difference of positions the last couple of weeks. The hope is that it will depress the more progressive vote, while spooking some more conservative-leaning folks in fossil-fuel heavy states like Pennsylvania and Texas. Ocasio-Cortez points out that the youth vote over the past couple of years has not simply become more sophisticated since 2016, it has brought in more progressive candidates and officials into local elections. The turnout in 2018 showed that, and Ocasio-Cortez believes that this election is very clearly a choice between Donald Trump, someone who is a non-starter of a human being, and Joe Biden.

Tapper then plays a clip of Biden telling reporters that he isn't "getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time," but that he's talking about getting rid of the subsidies the fake free-marketeers enjoy in the fossil fuel industry. While Tapper is hoping that this will illustrate how Biden isn't AOC and the youth vote may be turned off by this statement, she sees it as an important step in the right direction.

REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: When he says we are eliminating subsidies, I think that is, frankly, an important first step. A lot of folks who like to tout themselves as free market capitalists, while still trying to make sure they get as much government subsidy, and propping up of the fossil fuel industry as possible. ... If you do believe in markets, solar and renewable energies are growing less and less expensive by the day in many areas. They are starting to become less expensive than fossil fuels. When you eliminate government subsidies, it becomes more difficult for fossil fuels to compete in the market. I think while the vice president wants to make sure that he is not doing it by government mandate or regulation. I do believe that we are moving towards that future. I believe that there's a way and that we should push that process along but again, the vice president and my disagreements are, I believe, recorded and that is quite all right.