Supreme Court Stays John Ramirez’s Execution in Dispute Over Pastor’s Role

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the execution of a Texas inmate whose request that his pastor be capable to contact and pray aloud with him in the demise chamber had been rejected by jail authorities.

The court docket additionally agreed to overview the case on its deserves, with out famous dissents. The court docket’s temporary order mentioned the case could be argued in October or November.

The keep was the most recent in a string of Supreme Court rulings on the function that religious advisers could play in demise row inmates’ ultimate moments.

The new case involved John Henry Ramirez, who was sentenced to demise for the 2004 homicide of a comfort retailer employee. Mr. Ramirez stabbed the employee, Pablo Castro, 29 instances in a theft that yielded $1.25.

In jail, Mr. Ramirez cast a relationship with Dana Moore, the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. Mr. Ramirez requested that his pastor be allowed to carry his hand or contact his shoulder or foot and to wish out loud with him as he dies.

When jail officers rejected his request, citing safety considerations, Mr. Ramirez sued, saying the coverage violated his proper to train his religion in the intervening time when, as his lawyer put it in a short, “most Christians believe they will either ascend to heaven or descend to hell — in other words, when religious instruction and practice is most needed.”

Judge David Hittner of the Federal District Court in Houston dominated towards Mr. Ramirez, saying it was sufficient that jail officers supposed to permit Mr. Moore “to stand nearby during the execution.” Courts mustn’t turn out to be entangled, Judge Hittner wrote, in the minutia of jail safety procedures.

A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, upheld the decrease court docket’s choice. In dissent, Judge James L. Dennis questioned Texas’ new coverage, which permitted religious advisers to be current in the demise chamber however prohibited them from touching or praying aloud with the condemned inmates.

“What purpose is there for allowing a spiritual adviser, like a pastor, to be present in the execution chamber if that pastor is prohibited from attending to the spiritual needs of the condemned during the final moments of his life, through audible prayer, physical touch, or otherwise?” Judge Dennis wrote. “At the end of life, what does a pastor do but minister to and comfort his parishioner?”

In urging the justices to disclaim a keep of execution, Ken Paxton, Texas’ legal professional basic, a Republican, mentioned Mr. Ramirez had engaged in litigation gamesmanship. For occasion, Mr. Paxton wrote, Mr. Ramirez had at one level requested solely that his pastor be current and needn’t contact him.

The Supreme Court has taken quite a lot of approaches to fits in which demise row inmates requested that their religious advisers be current to consolation them throughout their executions,

In 2019, for example, the court docket allowed by a 5-to-Four vote the execution of an Alabama inmate, Domineque Ray, a Muslim whose request that his imam be current had been denied. At the time, Alabama allowed solely a Christian chaplain employed by the jail system to supply religious steering to condemned inmates throughout their final moments.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the dissenters in 2019, mentioned the bulk was “profoundly wrong.” Under Alabama’s coverage, she wrote, “a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites.”

“But if an inmate practices a different religion — whether Islam, Judaism or any other — he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side,” Justice Kagan wrote.

A number of weeks later, the court docket confronted an analogous case from Texas and got here to a distinct conclusion, staying the execution of a Buddhist inmate whose request that his religious adviser be current in the execution chamber had been denied.

In a short, unsigned order, the court docket mentioned that Texas couldn’t execute the inmate, Patrick H. Murphy, “unless the state permits Murphy’s Buddhist spiritual adviser or another Buddhist reverend of the state’s choosing to accompany Murphy in the execution chamber during the execution.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote that the state’s coverage of permitting solely Christian and Muslim chaplains to attend executions amounted to unconstitutional non secular discrimination. “The government may not discriminate against religion generally or against particular religious denominations,” he wrote.

Justice Kavanaugh wrote that states may exclude advisers of all denominations from the execution chamber, however could not enable just some to be current.

Alabama responded by excluding all religious advisers from the demise chamber. In February, the Supreme Court nonetheless let stand a ruling that halted the execution of an Alabama inmate, Willie B. Smith III, a Christian, except the state allowed his pastor to be current in the demise chamber.

“Alabama has not carried its burden of showing that the exclusion of all clergy members from the execution chamber is necessary to ensure prison security,” Justice Kagan wrote for 4 justices in a concurring opinion. “So the state cannot now execute Smith without his pastor present, to ease what Smith calls the ‘transition between the worlds of the living and the dead.’”

In a dissent in the Alabama case, Justice Kavanaugh wrote that “the state’s policy is nondiscriminatory and, in my view, serves the state’s compelling interests in ensuring the safety, security and solemnity of the execution room.”

Justice Kavanaugh added some sensible recommendation.

“States that want to avoid months or years of litigation delays,” he wrote, “should figure out a way to allow spiritual advisers into the execution room, as other states and the federal government have done. Doing so not only would satisfy inmates’ requests, but also would avoid still further delays and bring long overdue closure for victims’ families.”