Supreme Court Vacates Injunction in Alabama Death Penalty Case

On January 27, 2022, the Supreme Court vacated a preliminary injunction that had been issued by a federal district court in the Middle District of Alabama and upheld by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, thereby allowing the State of Alabama to execute Matthew Reeves by lethal injection.  The injunction came in Reeves's law suit which alleged that the Alabama Department of Corrections violated federal disabilities law by failing to take account of Reeves's cognitive deficiencies when offering death-row inmates a choice of execution methods. In Alabama, a recently enacted state law gave those inmates one month to select execution by nitrogen hypoxia, rather than lethal injection.  Reeves claimed that federal disabilities law required the prison to assist Reeves in understanding the execution options contained on the form provided to the inmates.  This failure by the prison to accomodate Reeves's cognitive deficiencies, according to Reeves, prevented him from timely choosing nitrogen hypoxia, which he believed was less painful than lethal injection.  Justice Barrett would have denied the application to vacate the injunction.  Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, dissented from the order vacating the injunction.