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Bucklew v. Precythe

United States Supreme Court

April 1, 2019

RUSSELL BUCKLEW, PETITIONER
v.
ANNE L. PRECYTHE, DIRECTOR, MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL.

          Argued November 6, 2018

         CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

         In Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35, a plurality of this Court concluded that a State's refusal to alter its execution protocol could violate the Eighth Amendment only if an inmate first identified a "feasible, readily implemented" alternative procedure that would "significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain." Id., at 52. A majority of the Court subsequently held Baze's plurality opinion to be controlling. See Glossip v. Gross, 576 U.S.___.

         Petitioner Russell Bucklew was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The State of Missouri plans to execute him by lethal injection using a single drug, pentobarbital. Mr. Bucklew presented an as-applied Eighth Amendment challenge to the State's lethal injection protocol, alleging that, regardless whether it would cause excruciating pain for all prisoners, it would cause him severe pain because of his particular medical condition.

         The District Court dismissed his challenge. The Eighth Circuit, applying the Baze-Glossip test, remanded the case to allow Mr. Bucklew to identify a feasible, readily implemented alternative procedure that would significantly reduce his alleged risk of pain. Eventually, Mr. Bucklew identified nitrogen hypoxia, but the District Court found the proposal lacking and granted the State's motion for summary judgment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

         Held:

I. Baze and Glossip govern all Eighth Amendment challenges, whether facial or as-applied, alleging that a method of execution inflicts unconstitutionally cruel pain. Pp. 8-20.
(a) The Eighth Amendment forbids "cruel and unusual" methods of capital punishment but does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death. See Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___. As originally understood, the Eighth Amendment tolerated methods of execution, like hanging, that involved a significant risk of pain, while forbidding as cruel only those methods that intensified the death sentence by "superadding" terror, pain, or disgrace. To establish that a State's chosen method cruelly "superadds" pain to the death sentence, a prisoner must show a feasible and readily implemented alternative method that would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain and that the State has refused to adopt without a legitimate penological reason. Baze, 553 U.S., at 52; Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___. And Glossip left no doubt that this standard governs "all Eighth Amendment method-of- execution claims." Id., at ___. Baze and Glossip recognized that the Constitution affords a "measure of deference to a State's choice of execution procedures" and does not authorize courts to serve as "boards of inquiry charged with determining 'best practices' for executions." Baze, 553 U.S., at 51-52. Nor do they suggest that traditionally accepted methods of execution are necessarily rendered unconstitutional as soon as an arguably more humane method becomes available. Pp. 8-14.
(b) Precedent forecloses Mr. Bucklew's argument that methods posing a "substantial and particular risk of grave suffering" when applied to a particular inmate due to his "unique medical condition" should be considered "categorically" cruel. Because distinguishing between constitutionally permissible and impermissible degrees of pain is a necessarily comparative exercise, the Court held in Glossip, identifying an available alternative is "a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims" alleging cruel pain. 576 U.S., at ___. Mr. Bucklew's argument is also inconsistent with the original and historical understanding of the Eighth Amendment on which Baze and Glossip rest: When it comes to determining whether a punishment is unconstitutionally cruel because of the pain involved, the law has always asked whether the punishment superadds pain well beyond what's needed to effectuate a death sentence. And answering that question has always involved a comparison with available alternatives, not an abstract exercise in "categorical" classification. The substantive meaning of the Eighth Amendment does not change depending on how broad a remedy the plaintiff chooses to seek. Mr. Bucklew's solution also invites pleading games, and there is little likelihood that an inmate facing a serious risk of pain will be unable to identify an available alternative. Pp. 14-20.
2. Mr. Bucklew has failed to satisfy the BazeGlossip test. Pp. 20-28.
(a) He fails for two independent reasons to present a triable question on the viability of nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative to the State's lethal injection protocol. First, an inmate must show that his proposed alternative method is not just theoretically "feasible" but also "'readily implemented, '" Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___ ___ This means the inmate's proposal must be sufficiently detailed to permit a finding that the State could carry it out relatively easily and reasonably quickly. Mr. Bucklew's proposal falls well short of that standard. He presented no evidence on numerous questions essential to implementing his preferred method; instead, he merely pointed to reports from correctional authorities in other States indicating the need for additional study to develop a nitrogen hypoxia protocol. Second, the State had a "legitimate" reason for declining to switch from its current method of execution as a matter of law, Haze, 553 U.S., at 52, namely, choosing not to be the first to experiment with a new, "untried and untested" method of execution. Id., at 41. Pp. 20-22.
(b) Even if nitrogen hypoxia were a viable alternative, neither of Mr. Bucklew's theories shows that nitrogen hypoxia would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain. First, his contention that the State may use painful procedures to administer the lethal injection, including forcing him to he flat on his back (which he claims could impair his breathing even before the pentobarbital is administered), rests on speculation unsupported, if not affirmatively contradicted, by the record. And to the extent the record is unclear, he had ample opportunity to conduct discovery and develop a factual record concerning the State's planned procedures. Second, Mr. Bucklew contends that while either method will cause him to experience feelings of suffocation for some period of time before he is rendered fully unconscious, the duration of that period will be shorter with nitrogen than with pentobarbital. But nothing in the record suggests that he will be capable of experiencing pain for significantly more time after receiving pentobarbital than he would after receiving nitrogen. His claim to the contrary rested on his expert's testimony regarding a study of euthanasia in horses that everyone now agrees the expert misunderstood or misremembered. Pp. 23-28.

883 F.3d 1087, affirmed.

          GORSUCH, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS, Alito, and Kavanaugh, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., and KAVANAUGH, J., filed concurring opinions. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GlNSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined as to all but Part III. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

          OPINION

          GORSUCH JUSTICE

         Russell Bucklew concedes that the State of Missouri lawfully convicted him of murder and a variety of other crimes. He acknowledges that the U.S. Constitution permits a sentence of execution for his crimes. He accepts, too, that the State's lethal injection protocol is constitutional in most applications. But because of his unusual medical condition, he contends the protocol is unconstitutional as applied to him. Mr. Bucklew raised this claim for the first time less than two weeks before his scheduled execution. He received a stay of execution and five years to pursue the argument, but in the end neither the district court nor the Eighth Circuit found it supported by the law or evidence. Now, Mr. Bucklew asks us to overturn those judgments. We can discern no lawful basis for doing so.

         I

         A

         In 1996, when Stephanie Ray announced that she wanted to end their relationship, Mr. Bucklew grew violent. He cut her jaw, punched her in the face, and threatened her with a knife. Frightened to remain in the home they had shared, Ms. Ray sought refuge with her children in Michael Sanders' nearby residence. But then one night Mr. Bucklew invaded that home. Bearing a pistol in each hand, he shot Mr. Sanders in the chest; fired at Mr. Sanders' 6-year-old son (thankfully, he missed); and pistol-whipped Ms. Ray, this time breaking her jaw. Then Mr. Bucklew handcuffed Ms. Ray, drove her to a secluded spot, and raped her at gunpoint. After a trooper spotted Mr. Bucklew, a shootout followed and he was finally arrested. While all this played out, Mr. Sanders bled to death. As a coda, Mr. Bucklew escaped from jail while awaiting trial and attacked Ms. Ray's mother with a hammer before he could be recaptured.

         After a decade of litigation, Mr. Bucklew was seemingly out of legal options. A jury had convicted him of murder and other crimes and recommended a death sentence, which the court had imposed. His direct appeal had proved unsuccessful. State v. Bucklew, 973 S.W.2d 83 (Mo. 1998), cert, denied, 525 U.S. 1082 (1999). Separate rounds of state and federal postconviction proceedings also had failed to yield relief. Bucklew v. State, 38 S.W.3d 395 (Mo.), cert, denied, 534 U.S. 964 (2001); Bucklew v. Luebbers, 436 F.3d 1010 (CA8), cert, denied, 549 U.S. 1079 (2006).

         B

         As it turned out, though, Mr. Bucklew's case soon became caught up in a wave of litigation over lethal injection procedures. Like many States, Missouri has periodically sought to improve its administration of the death penalty. Early in the 20th century, the State replaced hanging with the gas chamber. Later in the century, it authorized the use of lethal injection as an alternative to lethal gas. By the time Mr. Bucklew's postconviction proceedings ended, Missouri's protocol called for lethal injections to be carried out using three drugs: sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. And by that time, too, various inmates were in the process of challenging the constitutionality of the State's protocol and others like it around the country. See Taylor v. Crawford, 457 F.3d 902 (CA8 2006); Note, A New Test for Evaluating Eighth Amendment Challenges to Lethal Injections, 120 Harv. L. Rev. 1301, 1304 (2007) (describing flood of lethal injection lawsuits around 2006 that "severely constrained states' ability to carry out executions"); Denno, The Lethal Injection Quandary: How Medicine Has Dismantled the Death Penalty, 76 Ford. L. Rev. 49, 102-116 (2007).

         Ultimately, this Court answered these legal challenges in Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008). Addressing Kentucky's similar three-drug protocol, THE CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by JUSTICE ALITO and Justice Kennedy, concluded that a State's refusal to alter its lethal injection protocol could violate the Eighth Amendment only if an inmate first identified a "feasible, readily implemented" alternative procedure that would "significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain." Id., at 52. JUSTICE THOMAS, joined by Justice Scalia, thought the protocol passed muster because it was not intended "to add elements of terror, pain, or disgrace to the death penalty." Id., at 107. Justice Breyer reached the same result because he saw no evidence that the protocol created "a significant risk of unnecessary suffering." Id., at 113. And though Justice Stevens objected to the continued use of the death penalty, he agreed that petitioners' evidence was insufficient. Id., at 87. After this Court decided Baze, it denied review in a case seeking to challenge Missouri's similar lethal injection protocol. Taylor v. Crawford, 487 F.3d 1072 (2007), cert, denied, 553 U.S. 1004 (2008).

         But that still was not the end of it. Next, Mr. Bucklew and other inmates unsuccessfully challenged Missouri's protocol in state court, alleging that it had been adopted in contravention of Missouri's Administrative Procedure Act. Middleton v. Missouri Dept. of Corrections, 278 S.W.3d 193 (Mo.), cert, denied, 556 U.S. 1255 (2009). They also unsuccessfully challenged the protocol in federal court, this time alleging it was preempted by various federal statutes. Ringo v. Lombardi, 677 F.3d 793 (CA8 2012). And Mr. Bucklew sought to intervene in yet another lawsuit alleging that Missouri's protocol violated the Eighth Amendment because unqualified personnel might botch its administration. That lawsuit failed too. demons v. Crawford, 585 F.3d 1119 (CA8 2009), cert, denied, 561 U.S. 1026 (2010).

         While all this played out, pressure from anti-death-penalty advocates induced the company that manufactured sodium thiopental to stop supplying it for use in executions. As a result, the State was unable to proceed with executions until it could change its lethal injection protocol again. This it did in 2012, prescribing the use of a single drug, the sedative propofol. Soon after that, Mr. Bucklew and other inmates sued to invalidate this new protocol as well, alleging that it would produce excruciating pain and violate the Eighth Amendment on its face. After the State revised the protocol in 2013 to use the sedative pentobarbital instead of propofol, the inmates amended their complaint to allege that pentobarbital would likewise violate the Constitution.

         C

         Things came to a head in 2014. With its new protocol in place and the necessary drugs now available, the State scheduled Mr. Bucklew's execution for May 21. But 12 days before the execution Mr. Bucklew filed yet another lawsuit, the one now before us. In this case, he presented an as-applied Eighth Amendment challenge to the State's new protocol. Whether or not it would cause excruciating pain for all prisoners, as his previous lawsuit alleged, Mr. Bucklew now contended that the State's protocol would cause him severe pain because of his particular medical condition. Mr. Bucklew suffers from a disease called cavernous hemangioma, which causes vascular tumors- clumps of blood vessels-to grow in his head, neck, and throat. His complaint alleged that this condition could prevent the pentobarbital from circulating properly in his body; that the use of a chemical dye to flush the intravenous line could cause his blood pressure to spike and his tumors to rupture; and that pentobarbital could interact adversely with his other medications.

         These latest protocol challenges yielded mixed results. The district court dismissed both the inmates' facial challenge and Mr. Bucklew's as-applied challenge. But, at Mr. Bucklew's request, this Court agreed to stay his execution until the Eighth Circuit could hear his appeal. Bucklew v. Lombardi, 572 U.S. 1131 (2014). Ultimately, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the facial challenge. Zink v. Lombardi, 783 F.3d 1089 (en banc) (per curiam), cert, denied, 576 U.S. ___ (2015). Then, turning to the as-applied challenge and seeking to apply the test set forth by the Baze plurality, the court held that Mr. Bucklew's complaint failed as a matter of law to identify an alternative procedure that would significantly reduce the risks he alleged would flow from the State's lethal injection protocol. Yet, despite this dispositive shortcoming, the court of appeals decided to give Mr. Bucklew another chance to plead his case. The court stressed that, on remand before the district court, Mr. Bucklew had to identify "at the earliest possible time" a feasible, readily implemented alternative procedure that would address those risks. Bucklew v. Lombardi, 783 F.3d 1120, 1127-1128 (2015) (en banc).

         Shortly after the Eighth Circuit issued its judgment, this Court decided Glossip v. Gross, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), rejecting a challenge to Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol. There, the Court clarified that THE CHIEF Justice's plurality opinion in Baze was controlling under Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188 (1977). In doing so, it reaffirmed that an inmate cannot successfully challenge a method of execution under the Eighth Amendment unless he identifies "an alternative that is 'feasible, readily implemented, and in fact significantly reduces a substantial risk of severe pain.'" 576 U.S., at ___ - ___ (slip op., at 12-13). Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, reiterated his view that the Eighth Amendment "prohibits only those methods of execution that are deliberately designed to inflict pain," but he joined the Court's opinion because it correctly explained why petitioners' claim failed even under the controlling opinion in Baze. Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___ (concurring opinion) (slip op., at 1) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

         D

         Despite the Eighth Circuit's express instructions, when Mr. Bucklew returned to the district court in 2015 he still refused to identify an alternative procedure that would significantly reduce his alleged risk of pain. Instead, he insisted that inmates should have to carry this burden only in facial, not as-applied, challenges. Finally, after the district court gave him "one last opportunity," App. 30, Mr. Bucklew filed a fourth amended complaint in which he claimed that execution by "lethal gas" was a feasible and available alternative method that would significantly reduce his risk of pain. Id., at 42. Mr. Bucklew later clarified that the lethal gas he had in mind was nitrogen, which neither Missouri nor any other State had ever used to carry out an execution.

         The district court allowed Mr. Bucklew "extensive discovery" on his new proposal. 883 F.3d 1087, 1094 (CA8 2018). But even at the close of discovery in 2017, the district court still found the proposal lacking and granted the State's motion for summary judgment. By this point in the proceedings, Mr. Bucklew's contentions about the pain he might suffer had evolved considerably. He no longer complained about circulation of the drug, the use of dye, or adverse drug interactions. Instead, his main claim now was that he would experience pain during the period after the pentobarbital started to take effect but before it rendered him fully unconscious. According to his expert, Dr. Joel Zivot, while in this semiconscious "twilight stage" Mr. Bucklew would be unable to prevent his tumors from obstructing his breathing, which would make him feel like he was suffocating. Dr. Zivot declined to say how long this twilight stage would last. When pressed, however, he referenced a study on euthanasia in horses. He claimed that the horses in the study had displayed some amount of brain activity, as measured with an electroencephalogram (or EEG), for up to four minutes after they were given a large dose of pentobarbital. Based on Dr. Zivot's testimony, the district court found a triable issue as to whether there was a "substantial risk" that Mr. Bucklew would "experience choking and an inability to breathe for up to four minutes" if he were executed by lethal injection. App. 827. Even so, the court held, Mr. Bucklew's claim failed because he had produced no evidence that his proposed alternative, execution by nitrogen hypoxia, would significantly reduce that risk.

         This time, a panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that Mr. Bucklew had produced no evidence that the risk of pain he alleged "would be substantially reduced by use of nitrogen hypoxia instead of lethal injection as the method of execution." 883 F.3d, at 1096. Judge Colloton dissented, arguing that the evidence raised a triable issue as to whether nitrogen gas would "render Bucklew insensate more quickly than pentobarbital." Id., at 1099. The full court denied rehearing en banc over a dissent by Judge Kelly, who maintained that, while prisoners pursuing facial challenges to a state execution protocol must plead and prove an alternative method of execution under Baze and Glossip, prisoners like Mr. Bucklew who pursue as-applied challenges should not have to bear that burden. 885 F.3d 527, 528 (2018).

         On the same day Mr. Bucklew was scheduled to be executed, this Court granted him a second stay of execution. 583 U.S. ___ (2018). We then agreed to hear his case to clarify the legal standards that govern an as-applied Eighth Amendment challenge to a State's method of carrying out a death sentence. 584 U.S. ___ (2018).

         II

         We begin with Mr. Bucklew's suggestion that the test for lethal injection protocol challenges announced in Baze and Glossip should govern only facial challenges, not as-applied challenges like his. In evaluating this argument, we first examine the original and historical understanding of the Eighth Amendment and our precedent in Baze and Glossip. We then address whether, in light of those authorities, it would be appropriate to adopt a different constitutional test for as-applied claims.

         A

         The Constitution allows capital punishment. See Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___ - ___ (slip op., at 2-4); Baze, 553 U.S., at 47. In fact, death was "the standard penalty for all serious crimes" at the time of the founding. S. Banner, The Death Penalty: An American History 23 (2002) (Banner). Nor did the later addition of the Eighth Amendment outlaw the practice. On the contrary-the Fifth Amendment, added to the Constitution at the same time as the Eighth, expressly contemplates that a defendant may be tried for a "capital" crime and "deprived of life" as a penalty, so long as proper procedures are followed. And the First Congress, which proposed both Amendments, made a number of crimes punishable by death. See Act of Apr. 30, 1790, 1 Stat. 112. Of course, that doesn't mean the American people must continue to use the death penalty. The same Constitution that permits States to authorize capital punishment also allows them to outlaw it. But it does mean that the judiciary bears no license to end a debate reserved for the people and their representatives.

         While the Eighth Amendment doesn't forbid capital punishment, it does speak to how States may carry out that punishment, prohibiting methods that are "cruel and unusual." What does this term mean? At the time of the framing, English law still formally tolerated certain punishments even though they had largely fallen into disuse- punishments in which "terror, pain, or disgrace [were] superadded" to the penalty of death. 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 370 (1769). These included such "[d]isgusting" practices as dragging the prisoner to the place of execution, disemboweling, quartering, public dissection, and burning alive, all of which Blackstone observed "savor[ed] of torture or cruelty." Ibid.

         Methods of execution like these readily qualified as "cruel and unusual," as a reader at the time of the Eighth Amendment's adoption would have understood those words. They were undoubtedly "cruel," a term often defined to mean "[p]leased with hurting others; inhuman; hard-hearted; void of pity; wanting compassion; savage; barbarous; unrelenting," 1 S. Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed. 1773), or "[d]isposed to give pain to others, in body or mind; willing or pleased to torment, vex or afflict; inhuman; destitute of pity, compassion or kindness," 1 N. Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). And by the time of the founding, these methods had long fallen out of use and so had become "unusual." 4 Blackstone, supra, at 370; Banner 76; Baze, 553 U.S., at 97 (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment); see also Stinneford, The Original Meaning of "Unusual": The Eighth Amendment as a Bar to Cruel Innovation, 102 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1739, 1770-1771, 1814 (2008) (observing that Americans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries described as "unusual" governmental actions that had "fall[en] completely out of usage for a long period of time").

         Contemporary evidence confirms that the people who ratified the Eighth Amendment would have understood it in just this way. Patrick Henry, for one, warned that unless the Constitution was amended to prohibit "cruel and unusual punishments," Congress would be free to inflict "tortures" and "barbarous" punishments. 3 Debates on the Federal Constitution 447-448 (J. Elliot 2d ed. 1891). Many early commentators likewise described the Eighth Amendment as ruling out "the use of the rack or the stake, or any of those horrid modes of torture devised by human ingenuity for the gratification of fiendish passion." J. Bayard, A Brief Exposition of the Constitution of the United States 140 (1833); see B. Oliver, The Rights of an American Citizen 186 (1832) (the Eighth Amendment prohibits such "barbarous and cruel punishments" as "[b]reaking on the wheel, flaying alive, rending asunder with horses, . . . maiming, mutilating and scourging to death"). Justice Story even remarked that he thought the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments likely "unnecessary" because no "free government" would ever authorize "atrocious" methods of execution like these. 3 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States §1896, p. 750(1833).

         Consistent with the Constitution's original understanding, this Court in Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. 130 (1879), permitted an execution by firing squad while observing that the Eighth Amendment forbade the gruesome methods of execution described by Blackstone "and all others in the same line of unnecessary cruelty." Id., at 135-136. A few years later, the Court upheld a sentence of death by electrocution while observing that, though electrocution was a new mode of punishment and therefore perhaps could be considered "unusual," it was not "cruel" in the constitutional sense: "[T]he punishment of death is not cruel, within the meaning of that word as used in the Constitution. [Cruelty] implies . . . something inhuman and barbarous, something more than the mere extinguishment of life." In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436, 447 (1890).

         It's instructive, too, to contrast the modes of execution the Eighth Amendment was understood to forbid with those it was understood to permit. At the time of the Amendment's adoption, the predominant method of execution in this country was hanging. Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 2). While hanging was considered more humane than some of the punishments of the Old World, it was no guarantee of a quick and painless death. "Many and perhaps most hangings were evidently painful for the condemned person because they caused death slowly," and "[w]hether a hanging was painless or painful seems to have been largely a matter of chance." Banner 48, 170. The force of the drop could break the neck and sever the spinal cord, making death almost instantaneous. But that was hardly assured given the techniques that prevailed at the time. More often it seems the prisoner would die from loss of blood flow to the brain, which could produce unconsciousness usually within seconds, or suffocation, which could take several minutes. Id., at 46-47; J. Laurence, The History of Capital Punishment 44-46 (1960); Gardner, Executions and Indignities: An Eighth Amendment Assessment of Methods of Inflicting Capital Punishment, 39 Ohio St. L. J. 96, 120 (1978). But while hanging could and often did result in significant pain, its use "was virtually never questioned." Banner 170. Presumably that was because, in contrast to punishments like burning and disemboweling, hanging wasn't "intended to be painful" and the risk of pain involved was considered "unfortunate but inevitable." Ibid.; see also id., at 48.

         What does all this tell us about how the Eighth Amendment applies to methods of execution? For one thing, it tells us that the Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death-something that, of course, isn't guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes. Glossip, 576 U.S., at(slip op., at 4). Instead, what unites the punishments the Eighth Amendment was understood to forbid, and distinguishes them from those it was understood to allow, is that the former were long disused (unusual) forms of punishment that intensified the sentence of death with a (cruel) "'superadd[ition]'" of "'terror, pain, or disgrace.'" Baze, 553 U.S., at 48; accord, id., at 96 (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment).

         This Court has yet to hold that a State's method of execution qualifies as cruel and unusual, and perhaps understandably so. Far from seeking to superadd terror, pain, or disgrace to their executions, the States have often sought more nearly the opposite, exactly as Justice Story predicted. Through much of the 19th century, States experimented with technological innovations aimed at making hanging less painful. See Banner 170-177. In the 1880s, following the recommendation of a commission tasked with finding "'the most humane and practical method known to modern science of carrying into effect the sentence of death, '" the State of New York replaced hanging with electrocution. Glossip, 576 U.S., at(slip op., at 2). Several States followed suit in the "'"belief that electrocution is less painful and more humane than hanging."'" Ibid. Other States adopted lethal gas after concluding it was "'the most humane [method of execution] known to modern science.'" Ibid. And beginning in the 1970s, the search for less painful modes of execution led many States to switch to lethal injection. Id., at ___ (slip op., at 3); Baze, 553 U.S., at 42, 62; see also Banner 178-181, 196-197, 297. Notably, all of these innovations occurred not through this Court's intervention, but through the initiative of the people and their representatives.

         Still, accepting the possibility that a State might try to carry out an execution in an impermissibly cruel and unusual manner, how can a court determine when a State has crossed the line? THE CHIEF Justice's opinion in Baze, which a majority of the Court held to be controlling in Glossip, supplies critical guidance. It teaches that where (as here) the question in dispute is whether the State's chosen method of execution cruelly superadds pain to the death sentence, a prisoner must show a feasible and readily implemented alternative method of execution that would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain and that the State has refused to adopt without a legitimate penological reason. See Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___ - ___ (slip op., at 12-13); Baze, 553 U.S., at 52. Glossip left no doubt that this standard governs "all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims." 576 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 1).

         In reaching this conclusion, Baze and Glossip recognized that the Eighth Amendment "does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions." Baze, 553 U.S., at 47. To the contrary, the Constitution affords a "measure of deference to a State's choice of execution procedures" and does not authorize courts to serve as "boards of inquiry charged with determining "best practices' for executions." Id., at 51-52, and nn. 2-3. The Eighth Amendment does not come into play unless the risk of pain associated with the State's method is "substantial when compared to a known and available alternative." Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 13); see Baze, 553 U.S., at 61. Nor do Baze and Glossip suggest that traditionally accepted methods of execution-such as hanging, the firing squad, electrocution, and lethal injection-are necessarily rendered unconstitutional as soon as an arguably more humane method like lethal injection becomes available. There are, the Court recognized, many legitimate reasons why a State might choose, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, not to adopt a prisoner's preferred method of execution. See, e.g., Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___ - ___ (slip op., at 13-14) (a State can't be faulted for failing to use lethal injection drugs that it's unable to procure through good-faith efforts); Baze, 553 U.S., at 57 (a State has a legitimate interest in selecting a method it regards as "preserving the dignity of the procedure"); id., at 66 (ALITO, J., concurring) (a State isn't required to modify its protocol in ways that would require the involvement of "persons whose professional ethics rules or traditions impede their participation").

         As we've seen, two Members of the Court whose votes were essential to the judgment in Glossip argued that establishing cruelty consistent with the Eighth Amendment's original meaning demands slightly more than the majority opinion there (or the Baze plurality opinion it followed) suggested. Instead of requiring an inmate to establish that a State has unreasonably refused to alter its method of execution to avoid a risk of unnecessary pain, Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia contended that an inmate must show that the State intended its method to inflict such pain. See Glossip, 576 U.S., at ___ (THOMAS, J., concurring) (slip op., at 1); Baze, 553 U.S., at 94-107 (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment). But revisiting that debate isn't necessary here because, as we'll see, the State was entitled to summary judgment in this case even under the more forgiving Baze-Glossip test. See Part III, infra.

         B

         Before turning to the application of Baze and Glossip, however, we must confront Mr. Bucklew's argument that a different standard entirely should govern as-applied challenges like his. He admits that Baze and Glossip supply the controlling test in facial challenges to a State's chosen method of execution. But he suggests that he should not have to prove an alternative method of execution in his as-applied challenge because "certain categories" of punishment are "manifestly cruel . . . without reference to any alternative methods." Brief for Petitioner 41-42 (internal quotation marks omitted). He points to "'burning at the stake, crucifixion, [and] breaking on the wheel'" as examples of "categorically" cruel methods. Ibid. And, he says, we should use this case to add to the list of "categorically" cruel methods any method that, as ...


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