Nebraska Supreme Court upholds death sentences following brief repeal

Nebraska Supreme Court upholds death sentences following brief repeal

The Supreme Court of Nebraska upheld death sentences for eight death row inmates on Friday. 

The plaintiffs, who had all been sentenced before 2015, claimed that when the Nebraska legislature repealed capital punishment in 2015, their sentences should have been commuted, even though capital punishment was reinstated by referendum in 2016. One of the eight plaintiffs had been executed as the case was pending.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represented the plaintiffs. The ACLU argued that the sentences for the inmates had been automatically commuted after the legislative repeal, and the referendum only applied to future sentencing. They also argued that proper procedures regarding sponsorship were not followed during the referendum and that the executive branch violated the separation of powers in orchestrating the referendum.

The court unanimously (minus the two justices who did not participate) affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss the suit because “other equally serviceable remedies were available.” The opinion reads, “We have held under similar circumstances that an action for a declaratory judgment does not lie where another equally serviceable remedy is available.” The court noted that the plaintiffs had pending individual appeals and could seek relief through those appeals.  None of the plaintiff’s arguments were discussed in the opinion.