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US Carries Out First Federal Execution in 17 Years Following SCOTUS Ruling

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  • Early Tuesday morning, the United States went forward with its first federal execution since 2003.
  • The move comes after the Supreme Court rejected a last-minute injunction filed by a federal judge to stop the execution.
  • The judge argued that legal challenges needed to play out in court to determine if the federal lethal injections, which use a drug called pentobarbital, amount to cruel and unusual punishment, thus violating the Constitution.
  • According to the injunction, the evidence presented to the court showed pentobarbital injections risk causing the feeling of drowning or asphyxiation.

Federal Execution 

President Donald Trump’s administration officially carried out the first federal execution in 17 years on Tuesday after a day of legal whiplash.

The inmate who was put to death had been convicted of three counts of murder in aid of racketeering in 1999 after he and another man killed a family of three, including a child, in Arkansas. Court documents allege that the murders were part of a broader plan to create a white supremacist community in the Pacific Northwest.

The man, who has been on death row at a federal prison in Indiana for 20 years, was executed by lethal injection and pronounced dead just after 8 a.m. According to the pool report, shortly before his death, he insisted he was innocent. 

The execution marks the first time that the federal government has used the death penalty since Attorney General Bill Barr announced that the Trump administration would resume federal capital punishment last summer. 

In that decision, Barr also mandated that all the executions be conducted via a single-drug lethal injection known as pentobarbital. The Justice Department was initially set to execute the man who was killed Tuesday as well as four others in December and January, but that plan was blocked by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of the District of Columbia.

In her injunction stopping the executions, Chutkan argued that using a single procedure for all federal executions violated the federal Death Penalty Act, which requires federal executions to be carried out in a way prescribed by the state where the prisoner was convicted. If that state does not have the death penalty, the prisoner can be moved to a death penalty state and will follow their execution orders.

Chutkan’s argument was that while lethal injection is the primary execution method in the U.S., the type and number of drugs used vary from state to state. However, in April, the D.C. Appeals Court struck down Chutkan’s ruling and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, thus allowing the executions to go forward.

Last-Minute Injunction

Following the Appeals Court ruling, the executions were rescheduled. On Monday, the day of the first planned injection, Chutkan filed another injunction seeking to block the execution of the man killed Tuesday as well as three others set to take place this week. 

In her ruling, Chutkan argued that before the inmates could be executed, legal challenges needed to play out in court to determine if pentobarbital injections can be considered cruel and unusual and thus violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

She explained that people injected with pentobarbital risk experience flash pulmonary edema, which is the rapid build-up of fluid in the lungs that causes the feeling of drowning or asphyxiation resulting in “extreme pain, terror and panic.”

Chukan also wrote that the scientific evidence provided to the court “overwhelmingly indicates” that pentobarbital “is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions.”

The evidence submitted by the plaintiff’s experts, she said, showed that the “majority of inmates” executed by pentobarbital injections “suffered flash pulmonary edema during the procedure.”

The Justice Department quickly responded to the injunction, appealing to both the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, and arguing that the preparations were already underway and that Chutkan’s order served “to scramble those plans with a meritless injunction.”

Supreme Court Decision

At around 2 a.m. Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an unsigned, 5-4 opinion rejecting the last-minute legal bid and siding with the DOJ. 

In the order, the court said that the inmates had virtually no chance of winning their argument that pentobarbital injections were cruel and unusual. The court also noted that pentobarbital had been used in “over 100 executions, without incident,” and that its use had been upheld by the Supreme Court last year.

The court decision also noted that the inmates “have not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention by a federal court.”

The court’s four liberal justices opposed the decision in two separate dissenting opinions. Leading the first dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer raised broader questions about the constitutionality of capital punishment. He wrote that the death penalty is “is often imposed arbitrarily,” noting that the other man involved in the murders— who was considered more culpable— had received a life sentence.

In the other dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor condemned the rush to execute the same man.

“The court forever deprives respondents of their ability to press a constitutional challenge to their lethal injections, and prevents lower courts from reviewing that challenge,” she wrote. “In its hurry to resolve the government’s emergency motions, I fear the court has overlooked not only its prior ruling, but also its role in safeguarding robust federal judicial review.”

Notably, the court also refused to consider a claim filed by the 81-year-old mother of one of victims of the man being put to death to have the execution delayed.

In her suit, the woman argued that that the decision to hold the execution during the pandemic forced her and others to choose between their health and attending. She also claimed that the federal Bureau of Prisons had not taken the necessary steps to protect her and other execution witnesses.

While the Supreme Court did not issue an opinion or dissent on that matter, that DOJ argued against it, writing in court filings that it took their accounts “seriously, in accordance with their terrible loss and distinctive perspective.” The department also said that it was not required to factor in “the availability and travel preferences of those attending the execution when scheduling it.”

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers, suspected mass murderers, or those planning to commit a crime of that nature and may have done so with the intent to seek attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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SCOTUS Rules in Favor of Police in Two Qualified Immunity Cases

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The move further solidifies the contentious legal doctrine that protects officers who commit alleged constitutional violations.


SCOTUS Hears Qualified Immunity Cases 

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of police in two separate cases involving qualified immunity, the controversial legal doctrine that shields officers accused of violating constitutional rights from lawsuits.

The topic has become a major flashpoint in debates over police reform and curbing police violence since the protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the summer of 2020.

On one side, supporters of qualified immunity claim it is necessary to ensure that police can do their jobs without worrying about frivolous lawsuits. 

However, opponents argue that judicial interpretations of the doctrine over time have given police incredibly broad legal immunity for misconduct and use of excessive force. Under a previous Supreme Court ruling, in order for officers to be held liable, plaintiffs have to show that they violated rights “clearly established” by a previous ruling.

In other words, officers cannot be held liable unless there is another case that involves almost identical circumstances.

As a result, many argue the doctrine creates a Catch-22: Officers are shielded from liability because there is no past precedent, but the reason there is no past precedent is because officers are shielded from liability in the first place.

An Ongoing Debate

Critics argue that the two cases the Supreme Court saw Monday illustrate that double bind, as both involved accusations of excessive force commonly levied against police.

In one case, officers used non-lethal bean bag rounds against a suspect and knelt on his back to subdue him. In the other, police shot and killed a suspect after he threatened them with a hammer.

The justices overturned both lower-court rulings without ordering full briefing and argument because of the lack of precedent. The court issued the decisions in unsigned orders with no dissent, signaling they did not even see the cases as close calls. 

Advocates for qualified immunity claim the decisions signal that the current Supreme Court is not open to changing qualified immunity, and the most likely path for opponents of the doctrine is legislation.

While Democrats in Congress have made numerous efforts to limit qualified immunity, including most recently in the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act passed by the House earlier this year, all those attempts have been blocked by Republicans.

At the state level, dozens of bills have been killed after heavy lobbying from police unions. As a result, it remains unclear what path proponents for reform have at this juncture.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)

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Florida School Says Students Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Must Stay Home for 30 Days

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The school falsely claimed that people who have just been vaccinated risk “shedding” the coronavirus and could infect others.


Centner Academy Vaccination Policy

A private school in Florida is now requiring all students who get vaccinated against COVID-19 to quarantine for 30 days before returning to class.

According to the local Miami outlet WSVN, Centner Academy wrote a letter to parents last week describing COVID vaccines as “experimental” and citing anti-vaccine misinformation.

“If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the Summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” the letter reportedly stated.

“Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive and may return to school after 30 days as long as the student is healthy and symptom-free.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has debunked the false claim that those newly vaccinated against COVID-19 can “shed” the virus.

According to the agency’s COVID myths page, vaccine shedding “can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus,” but “none of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.”

In fact, early research has suggested that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus than unvaccinated people.

Beyond that, unvaccinated people are more likely to spread COVID in general because they are much more likely to get the virus than vaccinated people. According to recently published CDC data, as of August, unvaccinated people were six times more likely to get COVID than vaccinated people and 11 times more likely to die from the virus.

Centner Academy Continues Spread of Misinformation

In a statement to The Washington Post Monday, Centner Academy co-founder David Centner doubled down on the school’s new policy, which he described as a “precautionary measure” based on “numerous anecdotal cases that have been in circulation.”

“The school is not opining as to whether unexplained phenomena have a basis in fact, however we prefer to err on the side of caution when making decisions that impact the health of the school community,” he added.

The new rule echoes similar efforts Centner Academy has made that run counter to public health guidance and scientific knowledge.

In April, the school made headlines when its leadership told vaccinated school employees that they were not allowed to be in contact with any students “until more information is known” and encouraged employees to wait until summer to get the jab.

According to The New York Times, the following week, a math and science teacher allegedly told students not to hug their vaccinated parents for more than five seconds.

The outlet also reported that the school’s other co-founder, Leila Centner, discouraged masking, but when state health officials came for routine inspections, teachers said they were directed in a WhatsApp group to put masks on.

See what others are saying: (WSVN) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem

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Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.


Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg

In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism. 

Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.

“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”

According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.

Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice

“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.

According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject. 

Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out. 

Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.

See what others are saying: (New York Post) (The Daily Mail) (Insider)

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