WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court blocked Alabama from executing an inmate unless his pastor could stand alongside him as he dies, effectively resolving a long-running divide over the religious rights of condemned prisoners.
The court’s order, issued just after midnight in the first minutes of Friday, was neither a majority opinion nor a complete vote count, but Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined three liberal justices in a plurality finding that federal law compelled the William C. Holman Correctional Facility to accommodate inmate Willie B. Smith III’s final request. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas separately indicated that he would let the execution proceed.
That means either Justice Samuel Alito or Justice Neil Gorsuch—or both—took Mr. Smith’s side.
Mr. Smith was convicted of the 1991 murder of Sharma Ruth Johnson, 22 years old, whom he and a teenage accomplice first kidnapped and robbed when she stopped at an ATM in Birmingham, Ala. The jury voted 10-2 for a death sentence instead of life imprisonment.
Alabama said Mr. Smith was being treated fairly because prison policy currently allows no inmate to have a minister alongside as they are put to death. Mr. Smith argued that a 2000 federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, required the state to accommodate his request.
Source: WSJ – US News