US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in public prayer, execution method cases
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US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in public prayer, execution method cases

The US Supreme Court Monday heard oral arguments for Kennedy v. Bremerton School District and Nance v. Ward.

In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the court will decide whether a public school employee has the right, under the First Amendment, to pray in view of students on the football field.

 Joe Kennedy, who was employed as a part-time coach by a public school, was removed from his position as a football coach at a public high school because “he knelt and said a quiet prayer by himself at midfield after the game ended.” Kennedy brought the case to the district court claiming the school district violated his First Amendment right of free speech. The district court ruled in favor of the that the school district. Kennedy appealed the district court decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the decision.

Former US Solicitor General Paul Clement argued on behalf of the coach. Kennedy’s counsel argued that Kennedy was engaging in his own religious practices and did not coerce anyone to participate. He simply encouraged students, the opposing team, and anyone who wanted to to join him at the the 50-yard line, which did not violate the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, Richard Katskee argued that the district should have the option to censor actions on school property. Justice Alito stated that the case was about employment discrimination based on religion.

In Nance v. Ward, the court will decide whether an inmate on death-row can challenge the method which the state intends to use for execution.

Michael Nance was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2002. He has severely compromised veins and other underlying conditions that could make the injection immensely painful and risky. In such a challenge, the prisoner must choose an alternative method that is feasible and available. Lethal injection is the only method of execution authorized in the state of Georgia.

Matthew Hellman, Nance’s attorney, argued that under 42 USC § 1983  the state’s “sole authorized method of execution—lethal injection—as unconstitutional as applied to him.”  Hellman argued that Section 1983 applied because it is a claim about how the state may execute him, not a claim that the state cannot execute him. Hellman argued that Nance was deprived of his constitutional right because Georgia only has one method of execution.

Masha Hansford, the attorney for the state, argued that Nance’s claims should not proceed under Section 1983. She argued that precedent shows that federal prisoners do not use Section 1983, but they use the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

Stephen Petrany, on behalf of the state, argued that Nance “seeks to bar death by lethal injection . . . [W]hat he can’t do is get around [the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996] AEDPA by challenging his execution via Section 1983.”

The court is expected to give their judgment on the cases by the end of June.