WASHINGTON – 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.
The court's split vote Wednesday night ended a frenzied day of filings. Missouri twice asked the justices to intervene and permit the execution, while Taylor's lawyers filed two more appeals seeking delays.
Reporters and witnesses were gathered at the state prison awaiting word from the high court on whether to go ahead with the execution.
An appeals court will now review Taylor's claim that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, a claim also used by two Florida death-row inmates that won stays from the Supreme Court over the past week. The court has agreed to use one of the cases to clarify how inmates may bring last-minute challenges to the way they will be put to death.