The governor of Oklahoma, the state's Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal of Appeals are not seeing eye-to-eye over who gets the right to stay two condemned inmates' executions.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court stayed the executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, scheduled for today and next Tuesday, respectively. Lawyers for the men argued that the state's refusal to tell them where it obtained the drugs to be used in their executions could cause them to suffer unduly.
This all seems simple enough, but Oklahoma is unusual in that it has two Supreme Courts: one for civil cases (the Supreme Court) and one for criminal cases (the Court of Criminal Appeals). These courts have been trying for weeks to pass the jurisdiction over the case off to each other. Last Thursday, the Supreme Court declared that the Court of Criminal Appeals had to decide whether or not to issue the stay, as per the state's constitution. On Friday, the Court of Criminal Appeals used that same constitution to argue that it did not have jurisdiction. In both decisions, the justices' annoyance with their colleagues is obvious. The annual state court baseball game is going to be awkward this year.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard the case again, and this time, because the Court of Criminal Appeals "refused to exercise its rightfully placed jurisdiction and left this Court in an awkward position" after the Supreme Court "exercised our constitutional authority to determine the appropriate tribunal" (underline the court's), the Supreme Court decided that it would have to make a decision because otherwise the inmates would have no court to appeal to at all, which is also unconstitutional.
Now the executive branch of the state's government is weighing in. Gov. Mary Fallin, who last week signed into law a ban on minimum wage increases, wrote today that while she respects the court, she doesn't think it has "constitutional authority" to stay an execution and to allow it to do so would be violating that all-important state constitution that no one seems to know how to interpret. Also, she'd like to be re-elected (the primary is in June!) and knows that her voters are very much in support of the death penalty.
But Fallin must also know that to overrule the Supreme Court and deny the stay would open a whole new can of worms -- the Supreme Court is the highest law of the state. So she decided to use her own constitutional powers to grant a stay of execution for Lockett, during which time the state's attorney general will go to the Court of Criminal Appeals to see what they think. Again.
By the way, the attorney general told Tulsa World that he hopes the Supreme Court "will recognize the gravity of the constitutional crisis created by their actions." The constitutional crisis should pair well with the state's current "self-inflicted budget crisis," as the AP put it.
While the Supreme Court's stay had no time limit, Fallin is giving Lockett just seven days. She didn't say anything about Warner, whose execution is scheduled for next week if the Supreme Court's stay is not upheld. Which means Oklahoma might have a very constitutional double execution next Tuesday.
And no, we still don't know where they got those drugs from.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.