The Supreme Court of Arkansas [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Friday that a state law passed in 2009 that gives the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) [official website] authority to administer lethal injection drugs of its choice during executions unconstitutionally violates the separation of powers in the Arkansas constitution [text]. In the ruling, the court declared that the Methods of Execution Act of 2009 (MEA) [text, PDF] was an unconstitutional delegation of power from the legislative branch to the executive branch:
It is evident to this court that the legislature has abdicated its responsibility and passed to the executive branch, in this case the ADC, the unfettered discretion to determine all protocol and procedures, most notably the chemicals to be used, for a state execution. The MEA fails to provide reasonable guidelines for the selection of chemicals to be used during lethal injection and it fails to provide any general policy with regard to the lethal-injection procedure.Two justices dissented, arguing that the MEA was within the legislature's constitutional bounds.
Lethal injection drugs have been a subject of controversy recently. In August, a state judge in Arkansas ruled [JURIST report] that a state law provision allowing "any other chemical or chemicals" to be used for lethal injections violates the constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The ADC relinquished its supply of sodium thiopental, a drug used in the lethal injection process, after coming under fire for obtaining the drug from Dream Pharma [corporate website], a British pharmaceutical company. The state was forced to purchase sodium thiopental overseas [AP report] after the sole US manufacturer of the drug stopped production. The shortage of sodium thiopental in the US has caused several states to modify lethal injection protocol, which has led to a number of constitutional challenges by death row inmates.