Alito Splits With Conservatives on Death Row Appeal

Justice Samuel Alito’s first official act will have conservatives scratching their heads.

New Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito split with the court’s conservatives Wednesday night, refusing to let Missouri execute a death-row inmate contesting lethal injection. Alito, handling his first case, sided with inmate Michael Taylor, who had won a stay from an appeals court earlier in the evening. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas supported lifting the stay, but Alito joined the remaining five members in turning down Missouri’s last-minute request to allow a midnight execution.

Earlier in the day, Alito was sworn in for a second time in a White House ceremony, where he was lauded by President Bush as a man of “steady demeanor, careful judgment and complete integrity.”

He was also was given his assignment for handling emergency appeals: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. As a result, Missouri filed with Alito its request for the high court to void a stay and allow Taylor’s execution.


Taylor was convicted of killing 15-year-old Ann Harrison, who was waiting for a school bus when he and an accomplice kidnapped her in 1989. Taylor pleaded guilty and said he was high on crack cocaine at the time.

Taylor’s legal team had pursued two challenges — claiming that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment and that his constitutional rights were violated by a system tilted against black defendants. The court, acting without Alito, rejected Taylor’s appeal that argued that Missouri’s death penalty system is racist. Taylor is black and his victim was white. He filed the appeal on Tuesday, the day that Alito was confirmed by the Senate.

Unless there’s more to the case than AP is reporting–a strong bet, actually–this makes little sense. If Taylor’s attorneys had new evidence that might exhonerate him, then by all means a stay is warranted. But the crime took place 17 years ago and Taylor has been black the entire time. And lethal injection is hardly unusual, having long since become the favored form of execution.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. fndjfn says:

    Perhaps he’s letting his religious faith color his judgement.

  2. Ralph Perna Sr. says:

    The time has come and make up our minds,wrong to execute prisoners and right to execute the unborn.

  3. Anderson says:

    Maybe Alito was a little creeped out by that being his very first vote. When you’re on an intermediate court, you can pass the buck. No more of that for Alito.

    But as a reminder that valid defenses can be ignored by court after court after court, see this Alex Kozinski opinion that’s making the rounds. 12 years in prison for a crime the State never adequately proved against her. Ouch.

  4. ICallMasICM says:

    Maybe he was doing his job and thought this was the correct decision? I know that’s incomprehensible to the lefty and righty nutjobs.

  5. legion says:

    Hey, ICM – no fair injecting rationality into this!