At 1:23 a.m. on Saturday, the Trump administration finished its 13th and final execution. Dustin Higgs, a Black man who had been scheduled to die on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, was put to death while suffering from COVID-19.
Like those who had been executed before him, there were extensive unresolved legal problems with Higgs’ case. But like the previous executions, on the day the federal government wanted Higgs to die, the Supreme Court quickly dispensed with those issues and allowed the killing to proceed, only a few hours behind schedule. The justices didn’t explain why. There was no apparent reason, other than submitting to then-President Donald Trump’s desire to execute as many people as possible before leaving office.
It was an extraordinary and irreversible miscarriage of justice that capped a historically unprecedented six-month killing spree. From the Trump administration’s first executions in July 2020 to the final ones last week, the Supreme Court sided with the government every time, repeatedly allowing the rushed killings of people with outstanding legal claims. Some of those who faced the death penalty had future hearings scheduled before lower courts, wiped away by the Supreme Court so their execution could proceed on schedule before Trump left office.
“This unprecedented rush of federal executions has predictably given rise to many difficult legal disputes,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a fiery dissent last Friday night in Higgs’ case. “Against this backdrop of deep legal uncertainty, the [Department of Justice] did not tread carefully,” Sotomayor continued, detailing the government’s efforts to fast-track the killings “before courts had meaningful opportunities to determine if the executions were legal.”
At a time when the Supreme Court should have served as a check on the executive branch’s zealous pursuit of capital punishment, it instead rubber-stamped the killings, lending a false sense of...